The Blog

The Waiting Is Almost Over - England Rugby

When it comes down to it Eddie Jones will take a victory in whichever manner it arises however wouldn't it be great to see England go out there, exorcise a few of the demons left from the Rugby World Cup and play in the manner in which we all know that they can...

Professional sportsmen and women will always tell you that after they've suffered a devastating loss the only thing that they want to do is to go back straight onto the field and right the wrongs. That desire remains just as strong regardless of level of sport being played and without question it intensifies as the stakes, and stages, get larger.

England's squad have had since 3 October last year to contemplate how and why their World Cup crumbled. Of course there was the game against Uruguay to start to reverse some ill feelings however being brutally honest that match was a mere formality. It was played against lesser opposition and in reality will have done little to diminish the hurt felt by the squad. On Saturday, 126 days later, Vern Cotter's Scotland will provide the first true opportunity for England's squad to get back on the horse and show the world that they should be taken more seriously than their group stage exit implies.

The introduction of Eddie Jones presents a new dawn and a fresh start for England Rugby as he arrives with an entirely new demeanour and approach. However make no bones about it Eddie Jones' job has been made much easier by the foundations that Stuart Lancaster and his team put in place as Ben Kay highlights;

"It wasn't perfect at the World Cup, obviously, but it wasn't quite as bad as everyone thought. I keep saying that Eddie Jones is almost like that marketing/brand guy that takes over as CEO of a company in which the foundations are actually quite good and then let's everyone know how good his company is, both internally and externally. Clive Woodward was the same, he'd repeatedly make statements to the players, was it all true? Probably not, but you ended up believing it anyway."

It is an interesting parallel that Ben draws between Eddie Jones and Sir Clive Woodward. Of course they most famously met each other at 'that' 2003 final and since Eddie's appointment Sir Clive has been open about his wholehearted support for the Australian. At this moment Eddie Jones is taking a group of high quality England players by the scruff of the neck and instilling in them a renewed fire, belief and sense of power. The way in which he manages the media lets his side know that he has their backs and then when you couple this with one of the most well travelled and knowledgeable rugby brains out there you realise that England are in very safe hands.

Of course this match on Saturday afternoon isn't all about England, there's the small matter of their opponents Scotland. If you read the record books then Vern Cotter's side don't stand a chance; Scotland have won just one of their last 12 RBS 6 Nations matches, they haven't won at Murrayfield in the tournament since 2013 and have won just once before in Round 1. That said if ever there was a time to ignore the records then it is now for Scotland enjoyed a highly productive Rugby World Cup and should be more confident than ever before.

Vern Cotter's side now have a back line that can score points and a pack that won't be pushed about. The fitness of Mark Bennett is a huge boost; the manner in which he attacked the Rugby World Cup and was duly nominated for World Breakthrough Player of the Year highlights exactly the type of threat that he is. Bennett is part of the most positive back line that Scotland have had in years including Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg and more and although they aren't saying it outwardly they'll wholeheartedly believe that this is their year.

Eddie Jones' initial squad made pulses race and then some people felt slightly deflated when they saw the individuals that he immediately sent back to the Premiership clubs. However as David Flatman said to me earlier in the week 'picking proven guys for a very, very hard first match is absolutely forgivable' and he is right.

The XV that are likely to start at Murrayfield have plenty of International rugby under their belts however we expect that there will be differences to the XVs that faced Australia and Wales. On Saturday we are likely to see another new starting centre partnership with Owen Farrell and Jonathan Joseph, a new half-back axis with Danny Care and George Ford and new Robshaw, Haskell and Vunipola shaped back row.

All three areas will be vital to the success of the side alongside re-finding a scrummage that can dominate a Scottish pack that now mean business. As has been the case for years the spotlight will largely be on the centres, just how effective will it be having both Ford and Farrell on the field? Will Owen Farrell transfer his barn-storming form directly into the 12 jersey and will the 10/12/13 axis fly as it has the potential to?

Traditionally this fixture at Murrayfield doesn't contain a lot of rugby; tries are normally found at premium and instead the term 'arm-wrestle' has been befitting of the occasions. However the optimist in me hopes that Saturday will buck those trends, both sides have personnel within their ranks to deliver pacy, positive rugby and both have plenty to prove. Of course when it comes down to it Eddie Jones will take a victory in whichever manner it arises however wouldn't it be great to see England go out there, exorcise a few of the demons left from the Rugby World Cup and play in the manner in which we all know that they can...

England will make their team announcement at 10am on Thursday 4 February and the match will be televised on BBC 1 with kick-off at 4.50pm on Saturday afternoon (6th)