x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Six Nations could be start a new era for Scotland and England

Today's Calcutta Cup match will offer some fascinating pointers as to how the Six Nations will unfold. Paul Radley examines the issues to look out for at Murrayfield.

New-look England are old mates

England's interim coaches have not so much pruned the World Cup squad as taken a butcher's knife to it.

However, in no way are the players in the new side strangers. The back-line, for example, should be in sync immediately, given that four of them - David Strettle, Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt and Charlie Hodgson - are teammates at Saracens.

"When you are going out there to play big games you put your body on the line for your mates," Farrell was quoted as saying this week.

You never win anything with kids

So said a famous Scotsman. Another famous Scot, Sir Alex Ferguson, disproved Alan Hansen's theory on the value of youth almost as soon as he said it.

Watch out for these players at the Six Nations

Now the whole of Scotland will be hoping their rugby players can emphasise the point.

England's side have just over half the Test match experience of their rivals, but there are fresh faces in the Scotland side, too.

Lee Jones, 23, will debut on the wing, while big things are expected of David Denton, 21, who makes his first start at No 8.

 

England can do spirit, too

Every 12 months or so, when the Calcutta Cup rolls around, those on the northern side of the border are urged to invoke the spirit of Bannockburn.

England should not be short on commitment this time, either. Stuart Lancaster, the caretaker coach, has called in a variety of luminaries from English sport, as well as a war veteran, to pep up his side ahead of the championship. "The spirit that binds the English nation is probably the most powerful force," he was quoted as saying.

He cited the 2003 rugby World Cup and when England won the Ashes, and the football team at Euro '96. "What we've got to do is harness that and try to give them a team to cheer about," he said.

 

The pressure is off

Given Scotland's poor display at the World Cup, and the fiasco surrounding England since it, neither of these sides are fancied to do much in the Six Nations.

Wales, injuries aside, are thought to be the coming team of the world game. Ireland still have various remnants of their golden generation, even though Brian O'Driscoll is absent. And France are France - so anything could happen.

No one knows what to expect from the new England, while few people are yet convinced Scotland are as talented as Andy Robinson, their coach, makes out.

Neither, therefore, should be overly burdened by the weight of expectation.

 

pradley@thenational.ae