New-look England face Scotland acid test

By Julian Guyer ,AFP

EDINBURGH — Old hurts and new hopes will all be in the air when Scotland and England start their Six Nations campaign with the latest edition of international rugby union’s oldest match here on Saturday. England could hardly have a more awkward start to life under acting head coach Stuart Lancaster than a trip to Murrayfield, a ground where they have not won on their three most recent visits. Scotland, not that they’ve needed it in a fixture dating back to 1871, have an added incentive for beating England after they ended the Scots’ record of always qualifying for the knockout stages of the World Cup with a scrappy 16-12 win in Auckland in October. Afterwards, the Scotland coach said certain opposition players had been “arrogant” in victory, a charge often brought against England teams. But this latest accusation came from Andy Robinson, himself a former England flanker and coach. Meanwhile Lancaster, in another example of the ties that bind the old rivals, represented Scotland at Under-19 level, qualifying through his mother. England’s World Cup campaign only lasted one more match after they beat Scotland, a quarter-final loss to France setting the seal on a tournament where the squad became notorious for several embarrassing off-field incidents. Lancaster, appointed on a caretaker basis following former England manager Martin Johnson’s resignation, has set himself a tricky task. He wants to restore the tarnished reputation of the team, start rebuilding for the 2015 World Cup in England and win as well. The former coach of England’s reserve Saxons would like to do this while his own future is uncertain, with the defending Six Nations champions — something often forgotten in the midst of their World Cup debacle — set to review their options after the tournament. Lancaster has selected a vastly inexperienced, if potentially exciting, team for his first game in charge, with the starting XV showing 10 changes to the side that beat Scotland in New Zealand. New captain Chris Robshaw will be winning only his second cap while behind the scrum Lancaster has given debuts to Saracens centers Brad Barritt and 20-year-old Owen Farrell, son of England coach Andy. Lancaster has also recalled the Premiership champions’ fly-half Charlie Hodgson to play inside his club-mates following the international retirement of Jonny Wilkinson and the absence through injury of Toby Flood. Meanwhile Northampton No 8 Phil Dowson is set for an England debut. “In Charlie and Owen, we’ve got the ball players we need while Brad brings solidity in defence,” Lancaster explained Thursday. “If England are going to be successful long term, the quality of the performance has to be a big driver — but yes, this is international rugby, we’d take a 6-3 win.” Scotland’s side, with wing Lee Jones the lone debutant, has more than double the number of caps of England, and that could be a factor if, as often happens in Calcutta Cup clashes, the game becomes an attritional forward battle. But just as England are without their record points scorer in Wilkinson, so too are Scotland following the Test retirement of Chris Paterson. Try-scoring has been a major problem for Scotland of late and of the 20 teams at the World Cup only Georgia and Romania, with three each, managed fewer than their four tries. Not that Scotland center Sean Lamont was overly concerned. “Yes, it would be nice to be scoring pretty tries. But I’d still take an ugly win with a 3-0 victory without any pretty rugby against a loss.” If that is a cliche Lamont is happy to stand by, he’d dearly love Scotland, who’ve been battling with Italy to avoid the wooden spoon in recent Six Nations, to rid themselves of their ‘plucky losers’ tag.

“Myself and all the boys are sick of saying that. Scotland have had a lot of the old gallant runners-up. It doesn’t wash any more.”