Six Nations Rugby: England vs. Scotland Match Preview
And so the 6 Nations trundles on as the matches from two weeks ago are quickly forgotten and all eyes turn to this weekend's games. England face Scotland at Twickenham this Sunday in what promises to be a rather one-sided affair.
England hold all the trump cards. They are playing at home. They have the majority of their first choice starters available. They won their last match against the French and come into the game with that all important quality in sport: momentum.
Despite losing close games to both the All Blacks and the Springboks in the autumn, they trashed a highly rated Australian team and so far in this campaign have put away Wales, thumped Italy and out-played France. They are riding high and even the English public are starting to get a little energised and excited by the team Martin Johnson has put together and the manner in which they are playing.
At last England seem to have a team, not just a collection of individuals. Although, some of the changes in personnel have definitely made a big impact. Perhaps none more so than Ben Youngs at scrum half. The dynamic Leicester player has finally got the English forwards winning quick ball at ruck time and this, combined with his quicksilver pass, has at long last injected some much need pace and go-forward into the morass of the English midfield.
It is perhaps no wonder that since his introduction into the team and Toby Flood's increasing confidence at fly half the English have finally been able been able to play some exciting and entertaining rugby and their backs have scored some tries of real invention.
Elsewhere England have also unearthed some players of genuine talent that have made a big difference to the team as a whole. Chris Ashton on the wing has an uncanny ability to be in the right place and the right time, always in support of the ball carrier as the try-line nears. Six tries in three matches (and nearly seven had his one against the French in the last game not been ruled out for a forward pass) tells its own story and opposing teams are going to find stopping him very difficult. Ben Folden at full back has also been a revelation since his elevation to the senior team and has injected the back three with real running threat and flair.
In the forwards Tom Wood has taken to international rugby as if to the manor born and already many in the media are making comparisons with the great Richard Hill. No small feat after only three competitive matches.
So... the match is theirs for the taking. Or is it?
It's a foolhardy man who writes the Scottish off when it comes to 6 Nations matches against the Old Enemy. When playing the English the Scots always find a way to move up a gear or two. To find that extra passion and play as if their very lives depended on it. Tackles go in with just that little bit more bite and controlled aggression across the park from 1 to 15 is ramped up.
When it comes to England v Scotland rugby matches the unexpected can and often does happen. Despite having much smaller player base and consequently less strength in depth in their squad than all the other 6 Nations countries, Italy apart, Scotland still have some outstanding individuals in their team.
In the forwards, players like Ross Ford at Hooker and Alistair Kellock at Lock add some immense grunt to the Scottish pack and have the skills to match. Scotland are in the happy position of finding themselves with a growing number of excellent back row forwards from six to eight. The current incumbents, Kelly Brown, James Beattie and Jon Barclay and players of real quality and would push for places in just about any team in the world and with experience they are only getting better.
At full back they have a seasoned campaigner in Chris Paterson and his incisive running can often open up the most dogged of defences. And at scrum half, Mike Blair is without doubt a world-class player. He is a fine link between the forwards and backs and can make the team really click.
It is however at fly half that Scotland are really struggling and have been for some years now. Dan Parks has cut a rather forlorn figure at 10 for several seasons now and despite having the odd match of fine quality you can't help but feel he doesn't really cut it on the international stage. The problem for Scotland has been finding someone else who can. Hopes are high for new boy Ruaridh Jackson and if he can start firing in only his second game, who knows...? Perhaps he can ignite the Scottish backline and they can cause the English some real damage. Scotland fans will be praying he can.
Scotland coach Andy Robinson will be hoping his men pull off the unexpected and find a way to win. Before the 6 Nations began Scotland were certainly heading in the right direction under his stewardship with great, backs-to-the-wall wins against both the Aussie's and the South African's. However, this campaign has seen a reversal of his fortunes, as his team hasn't won a game so far this term. A heart-breaking close loss to the Irish in the last match has made it three losses on the bounce now for the Scots and they are desperate for the win. They were comprehensively outplayed against the French in their first match out, despite scoring three fine tries, and then went out with a simper rather than a bang against the Welsh.
It will take a real team performance, like the one they pulled out against the Australians in November, for Scotland to have any realistic chance of beating the newly invigorated English side. But... that chance is always there. It will be an intriguing afternoon in South West London on Sunday.