England have lit the fuse under the Calcutta Cup match on Saturday by promising a war against Scotland and highlighting their hatred for their old rivals.
Eddie Jones’s side head to Murrayfield looking to get their Six Nations campaign back on track and claim a first win over Scotland since 2017, with Lewis Ludlam and Courtney Lawes insisting England will relish the hostile welcome in Edinburgh.
England were, however, dealt a blow on Wednesday when Anthony Watson suffered a setback in his recovery from a calf injury, ruling him out of a return. As a result the uncapped Gloucester wing Ollie Thorley is set to make the 23, while Ben Earl could also make his debut if he survives the cut when Jones releases two players and confirms his starting XV on Thursday. One of those will be a loosehead prop, strengthening Earl’s claims.
In Watson’s absence, Jones is expected to stick with George Furbank at full‑back, while Jonathan Joseph is set to replace the injured Manu Tuilagi and form a starting midfield trio with George Ford and Owen Farrell for the first time since England’s defeat on their last trip to Murrayfield in 2018.
Mako Vunipola is likely to return while the fit-again Joe Launchbury has replaced Charlie Ewels, who pays the price for a disappointing performance in France where England’s hubris came back to bite them. They warned France to prepare for “absolute brutality” only to be outgunned by Fabien Galthié’s side. Nonetheless England head to Murrayfield with a point to prove, according to Ludlam, intent on avenging their comprehensive defeat two years ago.
Before that match Ben Te’o dismissed the influence of the Murrayfield crowd by claiming “you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all”, but Ludlam said: “That’s definitely not the view of the team now; that it’s just another place to go. It’s a battle. It’s going to be a war and it’s something we’re excited for and we’ll be ready. We are emotionally there. They hate us and we hate them. We are going out to get stuck in and they are going to do the same to us. Whenever you pull on the shirt, it is a proud moment, it is a passionate experience. I don’t think they will be any more revved up than we will be.”
Two years ago England were knocked out of their stride by a fracas in the tunnel before kick-off after Scotland’s Ryan Wilson targeted Ford, prompting Farrell to spring to his defence. Against France, the home crowd vociferously booed England before the hosts raced into a 17-0 half-time lead. Ludlam insists they are ready to deal with Scottish contempt.
“Personally I love that,” he said. “I love being the team that everyone is rooting against. That helps me definitely to get revved up. For my second cap in Wales there were old ladies and kids giving you the finger going into the stadium. That gives you goosebumps and gives you something to say, ‘We will shut you up with the rugby’. It’s all fuel to the fire for me. It adds to my performance.
“We’re going to come out fighting. We are revved up. We want to be brutal. We don’t want to give them an inch to breathe. I’m sure we will see that in the performance at the weekend, in all facets of the game. We’re coming for them. The best teams don’t roll over and take a performance like that [against France]. They come back fighting.”
This week the Scotland centre Sam Johnson, who was among his side’s try-scorers in the 38-38 draw at Twickenham last year, said “no one really likes England”, while two years ago the prop Simon Berghan said he knew everyone hated England.
Lawes, who started at flanker in that match and is likely to continue there on Saturday, said: “Everyone hates the English but you’ve just got to get on with it. There’s nothing new there.”
England will hope to have Watson back for their home match against Ireland but the forwards coach, Matt Proudfoot, confirmed they would not take risks, describing his loss as “significant”.
Proudfoot was born in South Africa but won four caps for Scotland and used to room with their coach, Gregor Townsend. “The home nations are so incredibly proud of their home field,” he said. “That is the biggest eye opener for me, how much pride the home nations have in their home fields. It is incredible. That is what was spoken about when I was there and I wouldn’t expect any different from any of them.”