Fast start, stage set for centres and players stepping up - How Scotland can end Twickenham hoodoo

Scotland beat England at Murrayfield in 2018, but can they now do it at Twickenham?
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There are a few numbers that Scotland fans are sick of hearing ahead of Saturday’s Calcutta Cup clash with England at Twickenham in the Guinness Six Nations.

For example, 36 is the number of years it is since Scotland won at the famous stadium while 61 is the number of points England scored in the corresponding fixture two years ago.

And as for the number of players currently out injured, well. Like head coach Gregor Townsend, the fans have just about given up counting…

In this era of stats-driven content, numbers are pretty much unavoidable so to keep up with the trend here are 10 talking points from a Scottish perspective as they head southwards as massive underdogs.

Scotland need to avoid having their pants pulled down

Bizarrely some people north of the border have said that this is a meaningless fixture given the team’s position in the table. What a load of rubbish. 

For a start every international game is important, especially one against England, while Eddie Jones’ and co will be looking for revenge. If they are not careful, Scotland could be taken to the cleaners. A solid start is vital.

Tunnel-gate revisited

Injured Ryan Wilson’s appearance on the Rugby Union Weekly podcast has stirred things up this week.

The cheeky back-row recounted last year’s tunnel bust up at BT Murrayfield saying: “I wasn’t at the epicentre of it, I didn’t start it. It was Faz [Owen Farrell] who came down the tunnel and pushed me in the back. That’s what I remember.” Farrell may be glad that he won’t be meeting Wilson in the bowels of Twickenham this year…

Centres really need to step up

They have just 11 caps between them at the top level and Sam Johnson and Nick Grigg will face their biggest test of their careers this weekend. Johnson was dropped for last week’s defeat to Wales and there is no doubt that Manu Tuilagi will be keen to test the eight-cap man while Grigg has been unconvincing against France and Wales. Henry Slade will have also taken note.

Townsend’s turmoil

When you get to the end of a championship such as the Six Nations, a head coach wants to have more answers than questions, but given Scotland’s up and down form and injury list, Gregor Townsend probably has more questions than answers currently. He will want the 80 minutes at Twickenham to give him more of the latter.

Time for Toolis

Jonny Gray has been a stalwart performer in the Scotland starting XV in recent times and everyone knows what he offers with 50 caps now under his belt. The Grant Gilchrist-Ben Toolis partnership has served Edinburgh very well over the last 18 months or so and the duo will have to be at their best in the boiler house this weekend against Joe Launchbury and George Kruis.

Watson’s return

When Hamish Watson went down holding his hand for Edinburgh in a European game just before the Six Nations got underway, there was a collective wince amongst Scotland fans.

The openside has become a real talisman for the national side and his ball carrying and work at the breakdown, like he showed off the bench in a cameo against Wales, will be key this weekend.

Captain Rambo

Stuart McInally has had an amazing couple of years for both Edinburgh and Scotland as the former back-row has finally shown his talent in the hooker jersey. With Greig Laidlaw now on the bench for the national team, McInally is now Scotland skipper and, for an away game at Twickenham, that brings its own pressures. The man known as ‘Rambo ‘has to forget that and just get on with his own game.

Nel heading to the Moon

WP Nel is one of the most fearsome tighthead props in the world on his day and, having recovered from a calf injury picked up earlier in the tournament, was firing on all cylinders against Wales in the second half last week. His aim will be to give England loosehead Ben Moon a tough time because if England get set piece dominance, it could be a long day for the visitors.

A big day for Skinner

When Townsend named Exeter Chiefs’ second-row/back-row Sam Skinner in his squad for the Autumn Tests back in November, the selection caused a few journalists north of the border to scurry to YouTube for clips of the big man in action. He made an instant impact in dark blue and it shows how highly rated he is by the Scots’ management that he is straight back into the starting XV at six.

Price and Russell on point?

Two years ago at the same stadium, young bucks Ali Price and Finn Russell, who both play the game with a swagger, were brought back down to earth by a ruthless England team. A couple years more mature, the halfback duo are back together for this trip south and know they have to get the right balance between adventure and a territory based game to keep their troops in this one.

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