Scotland vs. England: 5 Key Battles That Will Shape 2016 RBS 6 Nations Clash

Danny Coyle@dannyjpcoyleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 4, 2016

Scotland vs. England: 5 Key Battles That Will Shape 2016 RBS 6 Nations Clash

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    The oldest rugby match of all time is set for its latest renewal on Saturday as Eddie Jones takes his new team to Murrayfield.

    With the disaster of the 2015 Rugby World Cup still a painful memory for Red Rose fans, Scotland will be wondering what to expect from a side with little time to adjust to their new coach's ways of working.

    The Scots left the World Cup beaten quarter-finalists, but with a far better reputation than the one they arrived with.

    They came close to dumping out eventual runners-up Australia and returned home buoyed by their performances south of the border.

    They will be itching for a crack at an England side that plumbed new depths in the autumn.

    Here are the key battles.

1. Dylan Hartley vs. the Referee

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    The debate over the decision to make Dylan Hartley England captain has been well-rehearsed, and his crimes raked over more often than the Kray twins' rap sheets.

    But there is no smoke without fire, and any objections to the Northampton man's appointment is founded on plenty of evidence for the case against.

    But Eddie Jones has cited his aggression and abrasiveness as qualities he wants to see in his England side, per Nik Simon of the MailOnline.

    As long as those attributes don't boil over, as they often have with Hartley.

    Flash points with opposing players are one potential problem, but keeping harmonious relations with the official will be just as key a test for England's new leading man.

    Former South Africa and Italy head coach Nick Mallett does not like the look of the 29-year-old's track record on that front, per the Guardian:

    Hartley has a terrible reputation with referees and has been red-carded as captain. He will need to be a very different type of leopard. Maybe that will happen and he has said he wants it to, but he has yet to show the ability to play on the edge while being calm and reasoned in discussions with the referee at the same time. The jury is out on that one.

    On Saturday, the man Hartley will have to show he has banished his former ways to is Irish referee John Lacey, who did not emerge from the 2015 World Cup with glowing reviews of his own performances, per the Telegraph, who ranked the match official 12th out of 12.

    Both men have something to prove it would seem, and both would be best served by striking an amiable working relationship at Murrayfield.

2. The Back Row

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    The battle between the back rows at Murrayfield could decide this game.

    Eddie Jones has opted to shoehorn James Haskell into the No. 7 jersey, a position that does not suit his natural game. And so Englandmuch as they did under Stuart Lancasterwill play with no specialist openside flanker.

    Scotland have picked two—much in the same way Australia did during the World Cup.

    John Hardie starts with the No. 7 on his back, but John Barclay returns to the side at blindside. The Scarlets man has been playing No. 8 for the Welsh region, but his name was made as an openside, and he will play like one.

    This could present England with a similar problem to the one Australia's Michael Hooper/David Pocock double act did, with two men predisposed to robbing the ball from them, while having no such player of their own.

    It will be an area that hogs much of the spotlight on Saturday.

3. WP Nel vs. Joe Marler

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    Joe Marler has kept his place for England despite the bumpy ride he had at the World Cup.

    The Harlequins man's scrummaging angle was highlighted during the 2015 World Cup, per the Telegraph, and he was targeted by Australia, giving penalties away against the Wallabies as a result.

    The last thing England need is a loosehead prop coughing up kickable chances at Murrayfield.

    But he faces a tough test on Saturday in the shape of "Bok Jock" WP Nel. The naturalised Scot was impressive during the World Cup and will be preparing to play a key role against England.

    If the South Africa-born Nel can put Marler in trouble, England will not have a strong set piece from which to play off.

4. Finn Russell vs. George Ford

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    Two young stand-offs have the job of igniting their back lines at Murrayfield.

    Finn Russell has injected pace and guile into the Scotland three-quarter line and can cause England plenty of problems if he gets front-foot ball from his pack.

    George Ford has had a curious six months, falling out of favour for doing nothing much other than weighing less than Owen Farrell, who replaced him for England's crunch game with Wales in the World Cup.

    And since taking that knock to his confidence, he has had an up-and-down time with Bath as last year's Premiership runners-up have struggled for any consistency.

    Jones has given Ford a fresh vote of confidence, however, and if he can play the brand of rugby the Australian wants to see from his new charges, he could be the man to light the fire under this new era for the Red Rose.

5. The Lineout

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    Scotland definitely look to have the edge in terms of lineout options.

    The Gray brothers could cause plenty of problems for Joe Launchbury and George Kruis. Neither Englishman is famed for his work at this set piece, while Richie and Jonny are among the best exponents of the discipline in Europe.

    England have few other alternatives in their starting XV. Neither Billy Vunipola nor James Haskell are viable men to throw to, while Chris Robshaw would be a reasonable third jumper. Dave Denton is a stronger No. 3 jumper than anyone in England's lineup.

    If the Scots can make a mess of England's ball at the lineout, there will be little chance of seeing any of the patterns Eddie Jones has been trying to drill into his backs.


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