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6 Nations

England vs Scotland: The Talking points.

Team news, pre-match quotes, and the championship permutations ahead of Saturday’s finale at Twickenham

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Both England and Scotland have made several changes to their starting line-ups ahead of the final round of the 2019 Six Nations on Saturday.

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has made six alterations to the team that narrowly lost to Wales last week.

Sam Skinner and Hamish Watson start at six and seven respectively, replacing Josh Strauss and the injured Jamie Ritchie.

Ben Toolis comes in for Jonny Gray at second-row, completing a new-look forward pack.

Sean Maitland will start at full-back, and Byron McGuigan will join him in the back-three, with Blair Kinghorn and Tommy Seymour ruled out through injury.

Sam Johnston gets the nod ahead of Pete Horne at centre.

Meanwhile, England boss Eddie Jones has made four changes – most notably replacing Joe Cokanasiga, who was man-of-match on his debut against Italy.

Jack Nowell will start on the wing instead of 21-year-old Cokanasiga, whom Jones says he is protecting from media ‘over-hyping’ after impressing on his first England start.

“The media has an effect on the player and we need to be conscious of that,” Jones told BBC Sport.

“I think it is important, particularly in England, because I have seen so many good young players that start with this boom and then only play three or four Tests. I want him to play 100 Tests for England.”

Mark Wilson also returns in place of Brad Shields at flanker, and Ben Moon is restored at prop, at the expense of Ellis Genge.

Jones has opted for playmaker Henry Slade at centre, with the heavyweight Ben Te’o dropping out the starting XV.

What they said

England winger Jonny May, who is the competitions leading try scorer, was keen to praise Cokanasiga following his promising first England cap.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, May said; “I haven’t played with a winger like him before – he’s got so much talent and so much potential.”

“He’s brilliant now and he’s only going to get better. I’m pleased that we’ve got him.”

Cokanasiga displayed his ability to carry the ball one-handed in the game against Italy, often allowing him to find an offload, but May admitted it isn’t something he could do.

“When I see him carrying it one-handed I think, I’m not going to try that, but I think too it shows confidence,” May said. “It shows he’s a 21-year-old guy out there who’s out there on the pitch expressing himself.”

Despite the ramifications of the Wales game on Saturday, May reiterated that England’s attentions will not be on the game in Cardiff.

“For me it’s not about winning the Six Nations,” he said. “There’s a bigger purpose to what we’re doing here, and that’s the World Cup.

“We can go away feeling good about ourselves in this campaign regardless of whether we win the championship or not. If we put down the performance we want against Scotland we can feel good about ourselves.

“The main thing is doing what’s right for you. We need to get our best performance out regardless of what happens in Cardiff.”

England head coach Eddie Jones was wary of the threat the Scottish side will pose, as he spoke ahead of the game that will also decide the Calcutta Cup.

“Scotland is a difficult side, they are always at you, they play with a lot of enthusiasm and effort and have got a lot of attacking strings to their bow,” the Australian said,

“Finn Russell is an exceptional player at 10 and they have got some pace on the outside so we are going to have to defend really well against them.”

England centre Manu Tuilagi recently rejected a move to Racing 92 in France, and revealed playing for his national side was a major factor in his decision.

English players playing overseas are not considered for the national team, due the RFU’s selection policy.

Tuilagi, who moves to inside centre against Scotland, told BBC Sport;
“Playing for England is massive.”

“It’s a feeling you can’t replace. Hopefully I will keep playing for England.”

“I couldn’t be happier with the decision that I’ve made. I’m over the moon and I’m happy it’s done and I can focus on Scotland at the weekend,” he added.

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has hit back at critics of side, and is confident he can orchestrate a shock result at Twickenham.

“If no-one thinks we’re going to win then that’s fine,” he said.

“We believe we can win and that’s what we’re working to do. Scotland teams tend to be underdogs on a number of occasions and it usually brings the best out in them.

Townsend also highlighted his teams performance last week against Wales as a cause for optimism.

“We’re very motivated and full of energy. There were a lot of positive aspects against Wales, a quality team. We know we have to improve again to win at Twickenham.”

“The character and fitness the players displayed showed, in the second half, what the team is capable of against one of the best sides in the world. The next step is making that pressure count on the scoreboard, more regularly.”

Championship Permutations – Who needs what?

What do Wales need?

  • If Wales beat Ireland, Wales will secure the Grand Slam and the Championship.
  • If Ireland beat Wales without a bonus point, and Wales get the losing bonus point, and England lose, Wales will win the title .
  • If Wales lose without a bonus point, and England draw without a bonus point, Wales take the title

What do England need?

  • If Wales lose to Ireland, and England beat Scotland, England will win the title.
  • If England draw with a bonus point, and Wales lose to Ireland without a bonus point (and Ireland don’t outscore England by 64 point), England will win the title.

What do Ireland need?

  • If Ireland win with a bonus point, and England lose, Ireland will retain the title.
  • If England win with no bonus point, and Ireland score 64 points more than England, Ireland will retain the title.
  • If Ireland win with no bonus point, Wales lose without bonus point, and England draw with a bonus point, Ireland will retain the title.
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Scotland Suffer Major Six Nations Blow

Scotland have been dealt a huge blow ahead of their Six Nations opener against Ireland in just over a week

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Scotland could be without fly-half Finn Russell for the entire Six Nations campaign according to reports after he left the team camp of his own accord.

BBC Sport are reporting that the 27-year-old Racing 92 star has breached “team protocol” and it has been confirmed by Scottish Rugby that he will not feature during the team’s opening game against Ireland on February 1st. 

“Finn Russell will play no further part in preparations for Scotland’s Six Nations opener,” a statement read.

Some believed that the player was injured during last weekend’s Champions Cup defeat to Saracens while on club duty, but there are growing concerns that there may be tension between Russell and head coach Gregor Townsend. 

Russell has had problems before with the coaches tactics and didn’t hide anything following last year’s Six Nations draw with England, when the Scots came back from 31-7 at half-time to draw 38-all in the end. 

“I actually had an argument with Gregor [at half-time]. I said to him ‘you’re telling us to kick and when we kick, they just run it back and cut us open, and when we run it, they’re just hitting us behind the gain line and winning the ball back’. Second half, we just came out with nothing to lose, played our rugby, kicked out of our half and scored some great tries. We played good Scottish rugby,” he said after the game last March.

However, there is no certainty as to what is the actual reason behind the scenario, but Russell will in fact head back to Racing for now. 

It is a huge blow for Scotland with Russell being one of the more experienced players among a young group, but it appears as though Adam Hastings would be most likely to take his place. However, fans will be worried with it being unknown whether or not their skillful playmaker will be involved at all during this year’s competition. 

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Smith Defends Parisse “Send-Off” Decision

Italian head coach Franco Smith has defended the decision to allow Sergio Parisse play only one game in the Six Nations this year in order to give him a send-off

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New Italy head coach Franco Smith has come out to defend the decision to allow Sergio Parisse have a send-off in the team’s final home match in the upcoming Six Nations campaign.

It has been confirmed that former captain Parisse, who has a total of 142-caps to his name for the side will not be involved at any other point of the competition other than their game against England in Rome on March 14th. 

The 36-year-old had planned to make his final appearance against New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup pool stages last year, only for the game to be cancelled due to Typhoon Hagibis. Smith believes that it is only right to give Parisse one last chance to play in blue. 

“Sergio will be involved in the last game with England and he has a lot to contribute. I said to Sergio two days ago not to worry and he doesn’t want to let the team down. I said we would stick to the plan and I will help him settle in and give him the best opportunity to play as well as he can. There was a misinterpretation that it will be a goodbye game and that is not the case and the agreement we have is that he is going to contribute one last time. We have turned the page, but he (Parisse) is a player of stature and deserves a send-off, but it is not just a send-off game and we hope he can make a difference and contribute from a leadership point of view and also be the icon we can follow,” he said. 

Smith thinks that the other players in the squad may gain motivation by seeing Parisse get a send-off as they will see what could happen to them if they reach the high-levels he has. 

“If other players see the send-off that Sergio gets then that will inspire them to be as good as they can be in an Italian jersey as well. He will come into camp when he can but we have also made an agreement with his club in France. He was a leader for Italian rugby for so long that very few leaders were developed and now it is time for a new leadership group and we have identified seven players of which Luca Bigi is the captain. Sergio will come and contribute for old time’s sake,” he added. 

The news has got a mixed reception from some fans, but maybe it will be something to motivate younger players in the squads as Smith believes. 

Meanwhile, the new head coach, who took over from Conor O’Shea following the World Cup, is looking to Japan for inspiration with his new side. 

“I want to help the team get to the next level and the game is going to change. Japan helped with the way they went about it ( at the World Cup) saying they couldn’t beat other teams with the way they play and we have to find our own way. I think that will be a point of reference (for us). For a long time Italy played in a way to beat teams not necessarily with their own game. The pressure game has been a feature of the last six or seven years and attack is the most difficult area to coach,” he finished up on. 

Italy face a tough task heading into the campaign with current Grand Slam holders Wales up first on February 1st, with the Azzurri looking to end a run of 22 defeats in a row in the tournament.

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Former Scotland Star Fearing Tough Six Nations Campaign

Former Scotland star Scott Hastings is fearing the worst for his country as they head into the Six Nations

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Former Scotland centre Scott Hastings has predicted a tough Six Nations campaign for the national side as they go through a period of transition.

The 65-cap Scot believes that last year was expected to be the year where Scotland produced their best, but they failed and they are now trying to figure things out with a younger squad. 

Some of those youngsters have starred for club and country including the likes of Jamie Ritchie, Darcy Graham and Magnus Bradbury, but Hastings is worried that they will lack the guidance of experienced players with veterans such as Greig Laidlaw, John Barclay and Tommy Seymour retiring after last year’s Rugby World Cup

“I think Scotland are in for a tough season. There is a new era ahead. The team needs to try to put the World Cup to bed but they have lost three experienced heads in Laidlaw, Barclay and Seymour. There needs to be a new energy coming into the team and you can see Gregor is trying to do that with the six uncapped players he has included in his Six Nations squad. But has Gregor learned from the failure of last year? There was a lot of expectancy on the team but they imploded on numerous occasions,” he said while speaking to PA news agency. 

With that in mind Hastings believes that other players in the squad need to step up including Finn Russell, who is now one of the most experienced players in the squad. 

“The things we need to see is how does George Horne become that experienced player, how does Finn Russell strike that balance between exuberance, mercurial brilliance with also the need to be pinpoint accurate so he can deliver a winning performance for Scotland. In the forwards, how does Zander Fagerson turn himself into the number one tighthead in the Six Nations, how does Jonny Gray become the Alun Wyn Jones of Scottish rugby?” he added. 

However, he doesn’t believe that Scotland will be the only side in transition this year with Ireland and Wales in a similar boat in his eyes. While he is backing the title to head to either England or France this season. 

“I think Ireland and Wales are going through something a bit of a transitional period, similar to Scotland. England and France undoubtedly look like the teams to beat but I’m afraid Scotland are looking at fourth, fifth and sixth. I know that sounds harsh and when I played I certainly never went into a season thinking like that. But while I’m still a passionate Scotland supporter this time I’ve got to lead my head rule my heart. They have shown in glimpses that they can play well but you need more than that to compete for a Six Nations title,” he finished up with. 

Scotland will want an improvement from last season, where they only managed a win against Italy and a draw with England in the Six Nations as well as exiting the World Cup in the pool stages. 

However, they face a tough task this time around with their opening game against an Ireland side under new management and eager to impress their new coaches.

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