Two coaches ringing the changes this weekend in the other two Six Nations fixtures, however the balance of tactics and insanity are on fairly opposite ends. Ahead of facing a rejuvenated but floundering Scotland in Twickenham Stuart Lancaster has seen fit to make five changes in total to his 23 to ensure Scotland don’t pick up their first win against the second favourites. Phillipe Saint Andre on the other hand has reverted to form in his never ending quest to destroy the reputation of French international rugby. Let’s have a look so.
Scotland can win tomorrow. I just want to get that said now so as we don’t get too caught up in how much England will beat them by. Yes they have been their own worst enemy thus far and at least two of their games were theirs to lose but there can be no doubt that Vern Cotter has then playing a nice brand of rugby that just isn’t 100% yet. That said, Scotland haven’t claimed the Calcutta Cup in Twickenham since 1983 and with England unquestionably showing better form the task will be great. David Denton comes into the pack as one of five changes to the starting line-up but whilst his physicality will prove useful, the reintroduction of Finn Russell after suspension and the installment of Dougie Fife through injury could prove two huge changes. The Scottish back line can threaten and fate may have played a part for Cotter here.
But then there’s England. Maybe they’re a little overhyped, maybe their 2011 implosion has left us all expecting too little from them, but they know how to play at home. Courteney Lawes serves as a tactical change for Lancaster’s men but Mike Brown is now back from concussion and after Alex Goode had a bit of a nightmare against Ireland you wouldn’t be wrong to think he could be a one man tipping point. England simply play better with him and few lead from the back like he does. Pending the result of Ireland and Wales before them of course, England do still have a mathematical chance of winning the title. They also proved against Italy last year that they can find the composure required when chasing a points differential, Sarto’s late try the only factor that kept them behind Ireland on the table. 2013 aside, all of the recent Calcutta Cup fixtures have proven to be some of the most dour affairs in the Six Nations but with these two sides playing as they are hopefully that tradition can be broken. We will wait and see.
Phillippe, Phillippe. Was Marc Lievremont such an inspiration that it was necessary to continue his legacy? Look, French rugby issues are running very deep right now with the club game getting an apparent prioritisation and the brand of rugby they are playing within is anything but appealing. Individual talent still remains strong however and amidst this latest insane raft of changes that Saint Andre is famous for the sight of Maxime Mermoz and Gael Fickou in the centre is mouthwatering to say the least, but for it to come in place of Mathieu Basteraud heading to the bench is perplexing to say the least as he has been one small piece of consistency in an otherwise out to sea French team. There are some injury issues forcing a reshuffle too, I suppose we won’t sanction Phillippe too harshly.
For the Italians, change is less of an option but Leonardo Sarto coming into the team after missing out last time around is a good boost. The Azzurri have only been less frustrating than Scotland because less is expected of them but like their Gaelic wooden spoon rivals, they can bring it if they can just show some composure. Their win over Scotland will have the tails up for sure and Stade De France has been hardly fortress like in recent games, one dire win and an even worse loss so far in the competition. However, we saw France come good at the tail end of the Six Nations last season and there’s every likelihood they’ll do the same this year. The French have a knack for avoiding total embarrassment, pulling out a vital win just as the executioner’s axe is coming down, and Sunday will likely be the same.
Image courtesy of zimbio.com