Scotland face into their final pool game with only the slimmest of hopes of eliminating England from the tournament and progressing to the quarter-final themselves. To do they will have to beat England and score more bonus points than them or simply win by more than 41 points, so unless Chris Paterson can find his Monsieur Cent Pour Cent form from the 2007 World Cup and England are penalised off the park, you would think that one would preclude the other.
That’s not to say that England won’t be pinged off the park, but no one in their right mind would believe that a Scottish team that has managed only four tries in the tournament so far, all against Romania (two in the late late stages as the Romanian team tired after taking the the lead) will be able to pierce a reliably stingy English defence.
Andy Robinson’s ultra-pragmatic approaches to both the Georgia and Argentina games have meant that they will come up short, though the margins were incredibly fine in the later game. Robinson has again shuffled his deck, rejigging every unit of his team in line with his horses-for-courses principles. The centres now feature the hard-running Lamont (in from left wing) and Jo Ansbro, while last week’s captain Rory Lawson is replaced by Blair and Cusiter on the bench (highlighting, once again, Scotland’s infuriating habit of breeding good scrum-halfs).
The selection would suggest that they are backing themselves to look for the tries they need to make the unlikely qualification by playing as attacking a line-up as they can muster in the backs.
While it is unlikely that Scotland will achieve qualification to the quarter-finals (their first failure to do so in RWC history) they do have the opportunity to play party pooper and throw another spanner into the predicted draw. A win here could scupper England’s chances of winning the group and with the Argentines almost certain to rack up a bonus point win against the sated and exhausted Georgians, the bogey prize of an New Zealand quarter final could await them.
But it is probably wishful thinking to imagine that Scotland can defy the odds to unsettle an English team guided by World Cup final magnet le Jonny. While the heft of the English scrum is definitively weakened by the loss of man mountain Andrew Sheridan, their reliability in the tight elements of the game can be guaranteed. England’s weaknesses around the park have been exposed by off-the-cuff, heads up rugby, by Ireland in the Six Nations and Wales in the warm-up games and Scotland are singularly deficient in that aspect of the game.
England’s other major weakness, their inability to stop cheating, will no doubt hamper them if Paterson can kick points. We’re feeling that even with the intensity of the occasion and the rivalry, the White Orcs will just have too much beef (and pace, when necessary from Foden, Ashton and Dickhead Armitage) for the pragmatic and dour Scottish team. The bookies give England a 10 point headstart, which seems perhaps a little generous given the intensity we expect the Scottish to present and the English propensity to concede penalties.
England XV: Stevens, Thompson, Cole, Deacon, Lawes, Croft, Moody, Haskell, Youngs, le Jonny, Delon Armitage, HRH Tins, Tuilagi, Ashton, Foden
Replacements: Hartley, Corbisiero, Palmer, Easter, Wigglesworth, Flood, Banahan
Scotland XV: Jacobsen, Ford, Murray, Gray, Kellock, Strokosch, Barclay, Vernon, Blair, Jackson, Danielli, Lamont, Ansboro, Evans, Paterson
Replacements: Lawson, Dickingson, Hines, Rennie, Cusiter, Parks, De Luca
Referee: Craig Joubert (Eden Park, Saturday 8.30am)