England ready to bounce back against Scotland
Stuart Lancaster is prepared for a tough test in Edinburgh with the hosts – and parasitic worms – posing threats
England are preparing themselves for a pitch battle in more ways than one when they face Scotland for the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield on Saturday.
It was in Edinburgh where England coach Stuart Lancaster began his time in charge of the national side with a hard-fought 13-6 win two years ago.
They now head north on the back of an agonising 26-24 defeat away to France in the first round of the Six Nations.
But Lancaster was sufficiently encouraged by the way England, who had been 16-3 down early on, rallied to lead 24-19 before losing to Gael Fickou's converted try three minutes from time. He name an unchanged matchday party for the first time in his 23 tests in charge.
"It's good to be able to select the same players and they are all determined to put last week's result behind us and build on the performance," said Lancaster.
But the fact that England haven't scored more than 15 points at Murrayfield since 2004 tells the story of how Scotland, whatever else may be happening, can always rouse themselves for rugby's oldest international match.
And the fact Scotland, once more paying the price for a back division lacking a cutting edge, were well beaten 28-6 by Ireland in Dublin last weekend will give them additional motivation.
"Scotland will be hugely motivated by their defeat in Dublin and, as we found two years ago, Murrayfield is a tough place to play," said Lancaster.
While England are unchanged, Scotland coach Scott Johnson has dropped captain Kelly Brown, giving the flanker's place to test debutant Chris Fusaro and leadership duties to scrum-half Greig Laidlaw. "Fusaro is picked to do a certain role and we believe there's an opportunity for him to do it," Johnson said.
"England are powerful, they have an edge to their side and are assertive and aggressive," the Australian added.
"They will probably consider themselves unlucky last weekend but it's not always brute force that wins these games."
Bad weather has often been a key factor in the quality of Calcutta Cup rugby and, should the forecast rain arrive, the 132nd Scotland-England clash may well be something of a slog.
However, a new and worrying dimension is the state of the once pristine Murrayfield pitch.
The grass at the Edinburgh ground has come under attack from parasitic nematode worms this season, making scrums in particular a dangerous lottery, with the packs struggling to keep their footing on the loose turf.
Meanwhile, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt admits it is impossible for him to spring any surprises on Wales counterpart Warren Gatland ahead of their showdown in Dublin.
The two New Zealand-born coaches have opposed one another over the course of their rugby careers, while Gatland also has vast experience of the Irish game from his time in charge of the country and his spell as boss of the British and Irish Lions.
"I've no doubt Warren knows a fair bit about what I do and I know a fair bit about what he does as well," said Schmidt, ahead of a second-round clash that could prove decisive in the Six Nations.
"Obviously, he's coached, to varying degrees, about 10 of our lads. Some of them got injured and didn't have a lot of time on [the Lions] tour, while others spent a lot of time on tour with him.
"They give insights into how he's thinking and what he's developing. Then, I suppose, you get that double jeopardy where you start to think 'well, he knows we might do this'."