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Rugby | Six Nations

England favourites as Scots bid for rare win

England's emerging young side will have to cope with the pressure of being overwhelming favourites when they play Scotland in their Six Nations opener at Twickenham on Saturday.

Allowances were made when, under the new regime of coach Stuart Lancaster and captain Chris Robshaw, England travelled to Murrayfield this time last season and came away with a scrappy 13-6 win.

But England's stunning display last time out in their record-breaking 38-21 victory over world champions New Zealand at Twickenham in December has raised the stakes.

For many pundits, a Scotland win this weekend would be almost as unexpected given it's 30 years since their last Twickenham triumph.

This will also be Scotland's maiden match under Australian interim coach Scott Johnson, with a new-look team featuring six changes and a positional switch from the team that lost embarrassingly to Tonga in Aberdeen in November.

By contrast England have made just two, injury-enforced, changes to the side that beat the All Blacks

But as Lancaster's men discovered then, it can be liberating to play in a match where few give you a chance of victory.

And this time around they will be without Manu Tuilagi, who scored one and helped create two of their three tries against New Zealand after the powerful Leicester centre was ruled out with an ankle injury.

In his place, Lancaster has given a debut to Billy Twelvetrees, who has impressed with his passing skills since joining Gloucester from Leicester at the start of this season.

But recent England-Scotland matches have been anything but feasts of running rugby, with the quality of play often dire, and just a maximum of seven points separating the sides in their last four encounters.

Nevertheless, the 24-year-old Twelvetrees, who will be in between the Saracens duo of Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt, was eager to impress.

"I have got to impose myself on the game and get my hands on the ball –otherwise there is no point being there," he said. "I want to show everyone what I can do."

England's only other change has seen Joe Marler return at loosehead prop in place of Alex Corbisiero, out of the entire Six Nations with a knee injury.

One of the unsung heroes in England's defeat of the All Blacks was lock forward Geoff Parling, whose lineout work will be something Scotland need to counter if they are not to suffer yet more Twickenham heartache.

Johnson has wasted little time in trying to gee up his side by creating a siege mentality.

"Despite what people think, we are going to turn up to this game – we aren't going to cancel it," he said.

And former Scotland coach Jim Telfer weighed in with a charge that has doubtless been levelled at England by his compatriots ever since that inaugural meeting in 1871 when he accused the latest Red Rose side of "arrogance".

The down-to-earth Lancaster was unimpressed.

"It might have been the case in the past but it is has no resemblance to my team," he insisted.

Johnson's most notable selection has been to give an international debut to New Zealand-born wing Scott Maitland.

But for their outside backs to flourish, Scotland will need some possession and the return of Johnnie Beattie at No 8, revitalised since joining French club Montpellier, could be a key factor in that regard.

Scotland finished with the wooden spoon last season, part of a run of results that has seen them lose 12 of their last 15 Six Nations matches.

Direction at half-back has been a thorny issue and Johnson has opted for Greig Laidlaw, whose test career has been spent largely in the No 10 shirt, at scrum-half with the talented Ruaridh Jackson at fly-half.

No-one in the current side may know what it's like to triumph at Twickenham but at least Laidlaw can ask his uncle, Roy, one of Scotland's best scrum-halves, who was one of their try-scorers when they beat England 22-12 at Twickenham in 1983.

How the away fans at Twickenham would love for Greig to follow suit.


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