With recent history on their side, will Scotland be able to repeat their 2021 victory at Twickenham against England?
On Saturday 4 February, the old Anglo-Scottish rivalry will once again rear its head. ITV will be showing the late afternoon clash for the Calcutta Cup of England against Scotland. This game is full of uncertainties for fans as these newly re-structured sides undergo a trial by fire, with England’s new head coach and Scotland’s new captain making their debuts this weekend. Neither replacement has led their national team into a match, let alone to victory. And their first test will not only be in a game rife with old tensions, but it will be a chance for England to redeem themselves and regain the Calcutta Cup after their historic defeat to Scotland in 2021.
There is a lot up for grabs in this opening fixture to the Men’s Six Nations. First there is the opportunity to gain a strong start to the 2023 tournament. With Ireland and France predicting easy victories in their first fixtures, this tournament will be about small victories. The Calcutta Cup, awarded to the victor of the annual England-Scotland game, will be of particular value this year. It is also important to note that both teams will be looking to build momentum for their bids in this Autumn’s Rugby Union World Cup. This year, the bragging rights that come with victory over old rivals will be of particular interest; England will want to redeem themselves after two consecutive Six Nations losses to Scotland, whilst the Scottish side will want to keep hold of the Calcutta Cup.
Although England has often proved to be the stronger team with numerous Six Nations Championships under their belt, the Scottish side has, in recent years, undermined this long-held English supremacy. Rising from the ashes of their 2017 thrashing (61-21 to England), Scotland went on to win the Calcutta Cup in 2018 for the first time in a decade. Drawing in 2019 and losing in 2020, Scotland have been victorious against England for the past two years. 2021 saw Scotland make a historic win, beating England at Twickenham for the first time since the 1980s. With many familiar faces on the Scottish side, there is a good chance they will retain the Calcutta Cup for a third year. However, with both sides fairly evenly matched, England could still emerge victorious, sanctifying their holy home ground, once again.
The injury count has been mounting both before and since the Scottish and English sides were announced. Scotland has suffered the devastating loss of winger and reliable point scorer Darcy Graham, whilst English injuries have been concentrated within the centre-forwards, reducing some of the strategies open to new manager Steve Borthwick.
Last year, Eddie Jones was unceremoniously sacked after England’s poor performance in the 2022 Six Nations and Autumn Nations Series and replaced with Borthwick. Whilst pundits could be proved right about the benefits of Borthwick’s new approach to leadership, the lack of time for England to adjust could be catastrophic. Furthermore, with so many injuries, including vice-captain Courtney Lawes, England may struggle to adjust to their now ever-changing lineup. Captain Owen Farrell will not only have to hold this new grouping together but with so many playable options now ruled out, Farrell will likely have to carry more than his fair share this weekend if they are to regain the Calcutta Cup.
England is not the only team with a changed line-up. Last year also saw the demotion of Scotland’s captain Stuart Hogg and the promotion of former vice-captain Jamie Ritchie. Whilst Ritchie has yet to prove himself as captain, he at least will be a familiar face to the Scottish side. Hogg, whilst demoted, is still playing. Considering his point-scoring capabilities, his presence will likely be important in this weekend’s fixture, however, it will be interesting to see how he manages the change from leader to follower. Many players key to Scotland’s recent victories against England will once again feature Hogg, Duhan van der Merwe, and Finn Russell but Graham will be out of selection for at least the start of the competition due to injury. Graham is known for his incredible sprinting and at age 25, he has 29 caps and the bragging rights that come with scoring a try against New Zealand. Graham is an important component of Scotland’s game strategy – Scotland will have to shift tactics to compensate for his loss.
Victory over England is always important to Scotland, partly because the Calcutta Cup is a consolation for the side who have never won a Six Nations but also because the friendly clash is a way to release bitterness at old slights.
Friction between the two nations goes back centuries. With multiple conflicts over the last 1000 years, history has witnessed Scotland lose wars, freedoms, and even independent governance to England. Slights are still bitterly referenced today, whilst small victories are a point of smug pride. Even England’s occupation at the hands of the Roman Empire, something Scotland avoided, can be a point of pride, casually noted by some Scots. Sport is simply a contemporary display of this old rivalry.
Sport remains closely tied to politics. Sports fixtures have, for years, been a feature when world leaders have met to negotiate and sporting events, like Wimbledon and the Olympics, are almost always attended by political figures. Sport is a way for people to experience political victory without political consequences.
There certainly seems to be more excitement when rivals compete head-to-head. There’s great celebration when a sports team beats a rival, especially a nation that has experienced deep-rooted conflict with said rival. Why is this? Perhaps sport allows the release of political frustrations or channels tensions, irritation, and upset, displacing them from party politics.
No one is angry enough to start a fight but perhaps long-held grievances can come out as hyper-competitive excitement. There is certainly an argument that states beating rivals is heaps more fun than beating friends. When Scotland and England meet, they certainly prove this point.
Scotland and England seem evenly matched in terms of deficits in this upcoming Calcutta Cup. Both have new leaders yet to be tested and both sides have been plagued by injuries within their ranks. The absence of Graham will likely be felt by Scotland. But, with so many unknowns in the mix, it is impossible to know how the game will play out. The recent upheaval could spell out catastrophe or work wonders. However, with two consecutive wins and many familiar powerhouses returning, Scotland will have the edge going into this game.
You can watch England vs. Scotland on ITV, on 4 February 2023 at 4:45pm.
Get all the details on upcoming fixtures and where to watch at sixnationsrugby.com.