W6N: Scotland v England preview: home team face uphill battle at a sold-out Hive

Emma Orr believes her team are ready to "take the opportunity with both hands" against the world No 1-ranked visitors

Emma Orr
Emma Orr at Scotland's captain's run at the Hive. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

ENGLAND have not lost to Scotland this century and have shown few recent signs that they are about to do so anytime soon. That is the stark background – somewhere between the blackest black and the merely bleak – to Saturday’s Six Nations match at a sold-out Hive Stadium. 

But the past does not determine the present, especially when we are talking about games so remote in time. And, while there is no denying the scale of the task that the home team will face against the world No 1 side, they go into the fixture with greater self-confidence than they have had for some years.

Scotland began this year’s Championship with a record seventh consecutive victory in all competitions – a 22-20 win over Wales which, while narrow, was nonetheless well deserved. They then came within one play of claiming a losing bonus point against France – a team that had beaten them 55-0 a year earlier – before eventually going down to a 15-5 defeat.


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Bryan Easson’s squad were bitterly disappointed by that result a fortnight ago, and understandably so given the match was still in the balance going into the last minute. On reflection, however, it was an encouraging kind of disappointment, given it stemmed from the players’ realisation that they had come pretty close to pulling off a major upset.

So both those games, in their separate ways, will have stood Scotland in good stead as they prepared to face England.  They are competitors now, Six Nations also-rans no longer,  and there is a genuine self-assuredness about them when they discuss their own qualities or assess their opponents.

“We know England are the best side in the world and we’re buzzing to go up against them,” outside centre Emma Orr said earlier today. “It’s been a long time since we’ve beaten England. Why not now? Why not in front of a sell-out at home as well?  We’re really going to take the opportunity with both hands.”

Orr – who celebrated her 21st birthday last week, having been born four years after Scotland’s last win to date over England – is a smart enough individual to know that saying ‘Why not?’ is not enough in itself to guarantee victory. An astute game plan will be required, and the one adopted by her team today will largely depend on the weather, with a stiff breeze forecast for a venue that is pretty open to the elements.

“We’ll go out, assess the conditions pre-game and then go from there,” she continued. “The wind definitely will change our game plan depending on what way it’s blowing.”

The stronger the wind, the more kicking from hand we are likely to see from stand-off Helen Nelson, and the fewer chances Orr is likely to get to display her deceptively languid drift attack. That would be the downside of heavy weather, but on the positive side, the firmer the breeze, the harder England will find it to emulate the 50-point-plus scores they have racked up in the teams’ last few meetings.

 

 

Given those scores –  58-7 last year, 57-5 in 2022, and a mere 52-10 three years ago – it is clear that Scotland could still lose by a fair margin today and yet take some solace from at least reducing the margin of defeat. So what would represent progress for Orr  compared to the last few years?

“If we take France for example, last year’s score was 55-0 compared to 15-5 this year,” she added. “France and England are two of the top sides in the world. Going for the win, absolutely, and then narrowing the scoreline, essentially, is what we’re going for.”

Easson offers a similar assessment. Clearly, no head coach prepares his squad to go out and lose a game narrowly, but he is realistic enough to be aware that his players could conceivably perform very close to their best and yet still be defeated. 

“I’ve been pretty clear with everybody we’re not benchmarking ourselves against these teams yet,” he said earlier this week of England and France. “They’re ahead in terms of professionalism – a long way ahead. But we can benchmark performances and we learnt a lot from the France game.

“The England game is another challenge: they’re the best team in the world by quite a distance. You can see from their first two games” – a 48-0 win over Italy then a 46-10 victory against Wales – “they are trying to take the shackles off now and play more.”

With a maximum ten points from the first two rounds – one more than the French – England are so far on track to win the Six Nations for a sixth year in a row. They will regard this game, and next week’s home match against Ireland, as staging posts en route to the decisive confrontation, away to France on Saturday 27th on the final day of this year’s tournament.

Scotland, currently in fourth place a point behind next week’s opponents Italy, are aiming for the third-place finish that would give them automatic qualification for next year’s Rugby World Cup. Their campaign concludes in Belfast in a fortnight.

Scotland (v England at Hive Stadium, Saturday 2.15pm): C Rollie; R Lloyd, E Orr, M Smith, C Grant; H Nelson, C Mattinson, L Bartlett, L Skeldon, C Belisle, E Wassell, L McMillan, R Malcolm (captain), A Stewart, E Gallagher.  Replacements: M Wright, E Martin, E Clarke, F McIntosh, R McLachlan, M McDonald, L Thomson, F McGhie.

England: E Kildunne; A Dow, M Jones, T Heard, J Breach; H Aitchison, N Hunt; H Botterman, A Cokayne, M Muir, R Galligan, A Ward, Z Aldcroft (captain), S Kabeya, A Matthews. Replacements: C Powell, M Carson, K Clifford, M Feaunati, M Packer, L Packer, Z Harrison, S Gregson.

Referee: Clara Munarini (Italy).


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About Stuart Bathgate 1406 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.