England travel north looking to get their hands on the Calcutta Cup for the first time since 2020 and keep their championship hopes alive at Scottish Gas Murrayfield.  

Steve Borthwick’s side have successfully navigated the opening two rounds against Italy and Wales but face their toughest challenge of the Six Nations to date when they meet Scotland on Saturday.  

Since taking over from Eddie Jones, Borthwick has guided England to a World Cup semi-final and has made some clever tactical adjustments – and a smart appointment with the addition of Felix Jones, the ex-Springboks coach, as his defensive expert.  

There has been a notable shift in England’s defensive approach under former Munster and Ireland fullback Jones. Before they were passive at the fringes of the rucks, Jones has England flying off the line to shut down the attack.  

But England’s new defensive system has also been exploited in the opening two rounds.

Here we’ll look at how Italy and Wales found ways past England’s new blitz defence and explain how Scotland might do something similar.  

The new approach was typified in the win over Wales in the run-up to Ben Earl’s try. Despite being down two men with Ollie Chessum and Ethan Roots in the sin-bin,

Jamie George and Fraser Dingwall are quickly in the faces of the visitors as they attempt to run from their own 22.  

Scotland Rugby News: England's defence is up quickly on WalesEngland's defence is up quickly on Wales (Image: Youtube)

In the next phase Maro Itoje wins turnover having piled through on Ioan Lloyd and from the resulting scrum, Earl shows great power to drive over. 

Later on in the game, and with the home side restored to 15 players, they fly off the line again but the inside defence doesn’t stay connected, so there’s a huge space. Wales exploit this with an inside ball between the forward pod, and it leads to a break by Tomos Williams, from which Alex Mann scores.  

Scotland Rugby News: England's defence is not well connected, allowing Wales to break throughEngland's defence is not well connected, allowing Wales to break through (Image: Youtube)

It is a high risk, high reward strategy. There were difficult days for the Springboks early in the Rassie Erasmus/Jacques Nienaber era, but when they got it right, the Boks built their game off a solid set-piece and a relentless defence and it won them back-to-back World Cups. 

Similarly against Italy, England try to fly up on Paolo Garbisi, but they get it slightly wrong and leave gaps in their tight defence.

Scotland Rugby News: Italy exploit England's new defensive shape to scoreItaly exploit England's new defensive shape to score (Image: Youtube)

The fly-half gets the ball away to Nacho Brex, and Italy puncture England through the middle, a good carry from Lorenzo Cannone and some fortune leads to Alessandro Garbisi’s try.  

How can Scotland combat that? 

Borthwick and Jones will know England need to be wary of Finn Russell. He’s the most instinctive of the fly-halves they’ve come up against in the championship and he could hold the key to stopping England’s line speed.  

If they fly at Russell early on, expect to see the Scotland co-captain put the ball over the top of the England defence. Those chips over the top have worked well for Scotland in the past – and it will also make England think twice about rushing up and leaving huge swathes of the field unattended.  

Another tactic is to use the likes of Pierre Schoeman, Jack Dempsey and Grant Gilchrist to carry close to the England defence and get Scotland on the front foot. It’s much harder for a defensive side to get on top if the attacking team has all the momentum.  

When Scotland were on top against Wales, they were winning the gain line battle. Success there on Saturday would go a long way to checking England’s rush defence.  

READ MORE: Five things we learned from Scotland's win over Wales

Scotland could also use their wingers, particularly Duhan van der Merwe, as either a decoy on Russell’s inside shoulder, or indeed running off Ben White. Again this will make the England defence wary of rushing out of the line and leaving space for the big winger. He proved last year exactly what damage he can cause when given the space.  

It could be a big game too for Sione Tuipulotu, who may face either Manu Tuilagi or Russell’s Bath colleague Ollie Lawrence in the midfield. Not only will the Glasgow centre have to be at his best with ball in hand, his short kicking game – as deployed against Wales last year – could come into play if England leave themselves vulnerable.  

Elsewhere, Blair KInghorn’s return to fitness is timely. Expect him to come straight back into the team at fullback if he gets through training. Kinghorn’s experience will be required to defuse George Ford’s ‘spiral bomb’ kicks. 

Scotland Rugby News: Blair Kinghorn is back fitBlair Kinghorn is back fit (Image: SNS)

And expect another big shift from Zander Fagerson at the set-piece. He was good against France, barring one penalty concession at the end of the first half – and will need to be at his best again to see off England duo Joe Marler and Ellis Genge.

Scotland do have WP Nel back, but he’s 37 now and only played 50-odd minutes against Zebre on his return from injury, so it’s a big ask for the veteran to come straight back into Test rugby.