Calcutta Cup: Scotland ready to go “head-to-head and toe-to-toe” with England at scrum-time

Scrum coach Pieter de Villiers says hosts will respect but not fear opposition's set-piece

Scrum coach Pieter de Villiers says Scotland will respect England's set-piece but backs his team to more than hold their own. Image: © Craig Watson -
Scrum coach Pieter de Villiers says Scotland will respect England's set-piece but backs his team to more than hold their own. Image: © Craig Watson -

PIETER DE VILLIERS says that an increased focus on set-piece will be key to Scotland making it four Calcutta Cup wins on the bounce  for the first time since 1972 when Steve Borthwick’s England arrive at Murrayfield on Saturday.

“We’ve made set-piece an important factor of our psyche and preparation,” said the Scotland scrum-coach. “It’s important to get off to a good start, and that’s set-piece, first phase. The boys have been brilliant lineout-wise, scrum-wise and kick off-wise. That sets a good platform.

“England are a team where if you don’t start well, with your set-piece, you won’t do well. That consistency has been an important part of our growth and will be important for us again this weekend.”

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“It will be physical. They are a team who can suffocate, and we have to be ready for that. They’ve won both their games so far. That’s most important. Every team will grow as the competition goes on, so England will be an even better team this weekend.

“We respect England a lot,” he added. “They are currently ranked above us [5th versus 6th in the world rankings] and they’ve had a solid World Cup and they’re always tough up-front so we know it will be another physical Calcutta Cup match.

“They will stay true to their DNA and bring a strong battle set-piece-wise and play a territorial game and wait for us to make some errors. That’s what we’re expecting and we’ll prep for that and make sure that up-front we’re ready for a big onslaught.

Asked if he is confident that this Scotland pack has progressed to the point where they can go after England at scrum-time, de Villiers replied: “Yes. It’s important to keep your feet on the ground but it’s also important to believe you can move packs around and compete or beat them physically and set-piece wise.

“It’s very important in Test match rugby to do well there and with all the respect we’ve got for the English pack we believe we will go head-to-head and toe-to-toe with them.

“We’ve looked at balance: making sure we kept Scotland’s qualities which are the attacking game and skill-set, but also find balance in other departments as well, and over time we’ve grown confidence in our set-piece as well and it’s become an important weapon for us.

“In Test match rugby variety becomes important, being able to vary your game and being able to take teams away from their game, and that’s why it’s so important to be strong in different departments.”



Scotland have walked a tight-rope in the crucial tight-head prop position during this Six Nations so far, with veteran WP Nel missing the first two games through a neck injury, Javan Sebastian seriously short of match-fitness following a knee injury in December, and new face Will Hurd suffering a foot injury before he arrived in camp.

That meant the unheralded Elliot Millar-Mills  – who previously had two spells with Edinburgh (one on a permanent contract in 2017-18 when he made four bench appearances and one loan deal in 2022-23 when he made one bench appearance) – got a big chance he could not possibly have dreamt about whilst making just one start and 10 bench appearances for Northampton Saints this season before receiving a summons from the Scotland coaching team.

The 31-year-old replaced first choice Zander Fagerson for the final 11 minutes of the round one victory over Wales, before being an unused replacement against France, and with Nel now recalled to the squad it looks like he will be handed the No 18 jersey this weekend.

“He [Nel] is doing well and it’s great to have his experience back in the squad,” said de Villiers. “It was good to see him play for Edinburgh at the weekend, he did well against Zebre. We’ll see how he progresses this week and take it from there.

“WP has had a bit more game-time, having had more than 50 minutes for Edinburgh at the weekend and scrummed very well, whereas Javan hasn’t played much since his injury so getting a bit of game time with his club will be good for him.

“Elliot has done very well for us – coming on against Wales he showed a lot of maturity. He’s come from Northampton and slotted in well. He has got into the groove very quickly, he’s scrummaging well and his non-set piece work is very good as well.

“He’s deserved the right to be involved with the squad again. It’s great to have more depth. We’ve got more props and front-rowers coming through and that’s fantastic. It’s all healthy competition.

“It was great to see [80 minutes] from Zander and he didn’t show any signs of fatigue in that game, and the French pack is always very physical,” de Villiers added. “Up until that last scrum Zander had the upper hand and we believe he did really well. At the same time, we’ve got a lot of confidence in the boys behind him but our No 1 tighthead did very well on that day and we gave him our full backing.”

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About David Barnes 3908 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.