An away day in Scotland. Saturday night Six Nations classic. The Calcutta Cup on the line – pride and reputation, also. For Ben Youngs, 96 caps deep, this weekend marks an important demarcation in his career, a point perhaps to be marked in the future: ‘decline’.
For England too, Saturday is a chance to arrest such a narrative. Dupont was so superior in Paris: so much sharper, so much more central to everything that England did, that number nine has emerged from nowhere as a problem position. Perhaps not from nowhere, in the World Cup final Ben Spencer’s late and unexpected presence was a destabilising factor, but Youngs was so good pre-New Zealand that questions over his successor quickly evaporated.
England’s centre of gravity is firmly situated in the 10-12 axis of Ford and Farrell. Antoine Dupont showed the value of orchestrating a game based on keeping it close, physical and confrontational on Saturday, with a view to going wide only when necessary.
In changes to the forwards, the form duo Tom Dunn and Ben Earle appear on the bench. At least form players are getting some recognition. Some would argue Earle deserves to start over Curry, if the choice is between the two, I choose Curry, the problem is, it need not be. It is a debate manufactured by Jones. Curry is not an international number eight. Not presently, anyway.
Jones has at least started giving his opposition a little respect. “Scotland are a dangerous side,” he accepted this week.
“They like to play with a lot of width and with a lot of flow and tempo in their game . We want to make sure we dominate the gain line. Their win record against England at Murrayfield is substantially higher than their overall record against us, so we have to recognise they are a dangerous beast and we have to be at our best to beat them.”
Scotland are not a great side. At best they are a team in transition, but they have been for a while, and one suspects stagnation perhaps might be a more accurate description. And yet they are perennially dangerous. A team with talent. To my mind, Hamish Watson is the form openside in Europe. I rate him as a truly exceptional player. Huw Jones, who seems never to age, is another talent at outside centre.
Scotland are not to be underestimated. After France, we know that now. One just suspects the England camp don’t know it quite as pertinently as they perhaps think. Attitude and aptitude will be the problem, not necessarily who Jones picks to play.
Written by Joe Ronan.