Nick Easter backs England but warns of Scotland threat in Six Nations clash

Expert witness Nick Easter on England’s six nations opener against Scotland Credit: Alamy

With the Six Nations finally upon us, we’re joined by former England number eight Nick Easter to study the upcoming Calcutta Cup game on Saturday.

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Steve Borthwick’s England first team has included some surprises, notably the loss of Manu Tuilagi for Matchday 23 and the introduction of Ben Curry and Ollie Hassell-Collins to Six Nations rugby.

Former Worcester Warriors forwards coach Easter believes the selection for his first game is very focused and based on a clear game plan.

“This side is chosen specifically with the plan to play with rhythm and excellence with the passing and kicking game,” he said.

“The simple truth is that England no longer have those great ‘white orc’ forwards of yore, plus the Premiership style of rugby is fast, expansive and contested in the air and in the drop zone.

“The ambition here is clear – to use Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell to create space and chances, either with their kicking game or alternatively to bring the likes of Ollie Hassell-Collins, Freddie Steward and Max Malins into the line or across the field. His wings

Physically and size

“Physically, both at the back and the front, Scotland have bigger size and power; Borthwick has taken the unusual route of what he would describe as an overall unbalanced team, but one who has absolute clarity of role and tactics. The English forwards are all great ball players, wonderful handlers and distributors, even on the front line. Ollie Chessum’s ability to catch loose balls, especially in that relegation zone contest, is a crucial part of his game and something that could be a point of difference for England, even if he does allow some physicality to Grant Gilchrist, a player hugely underrated.

“At the back, Joe Marchant’s superpowers are his passing game and 13-channel defence, key areas of a modern Test player, and the two wings offer a contrast to Hassell-Collins adding direct pace and continuous contact, and Max Malins offering Owen. Farrell, that extra playmaker on his shoulder, a tactic we often see in Saracens, with Malins adept at running smart lines into his midfield,” Easter said.

Fixed part speed

“The theme of speed is also reflected in the forward selection. Expect to see scrums adopting the Harlequins mantra of squaring off in tackling, bringing the ball in and out at pace, without focusing on duration. I feel that committing to long scrums would make Scotland’s extra tonnage and tight skills cause England some problems. Dan Cole will add power off the bench, and while we’re all aware of Mako Vunipola’s handling ability, I find it remarkable that Val Rapava-Ruskin isn’t involved as he currently is, certainly with his head loose in Europe.

“The lineout battle will have been a key thought process for Borthwick. The man eats and breathes in the lineouts, and I think his plan here is to use five-man structures with two jump blocks only, with a hinge player, probably Ben Curry, and trapping in the post using escape runs from Dombrandt and Ludlam. to create chaos and move. defenses all around.

“Once you get down to five men, it’s all about speed on the ground as opposed to jumping into the air. The pods on that five man are no different, so you use the hinge man to spread out and move the opposition, thus creating more ability to run unopposed carriers over the win line, since you know where the focal attack is going to be, not the opposition. .

“It also means less focus on the lineout maul – expect to see dummy mauls form quickly and break-backs used around them.

“The delivery of this style of set pieces relies heavily on precision over brute force; My only concern is if the team has spent enough time together to run this in the pressure boiler of a Test match, but the only way you’re going to get that time on the bench is to play, so it’s a matter of fixing a system, stick with it and let the players lie down to deliver it,” Easter explained.

open play battles

“Scotland have chosen a physical back line with a lot of direct gas. For England, defending the running backs will be absolutely key and the aim will be to get to a situation where they are isolated without the support of the competition. However, Scotland do not have the agility and aerial focus that England have, and you will see a great crossover effort and box kicks from Farrell, Smith and Van Poortvliet to get the best of Marchant, Malins and Steward. Expect to see a tighter defense than England have used recently, with an emphasis on blitz speed, with a man in the boot as a cover defender across the wider swaths.

“England’s bottom five in the group are also, in my opinion, slightly better in the relegation zone sweep, and that is as much a battle as the aerial contest itself. Marchant has a bit of Lukhanyo Am about him in the way that he can take advantage of those little loose ball moments in the game, and I expect it to be a key win for England.

“However, you don’t win many Test matches without some degree of progress on the win line and, crucially for Marcus Smith, less than two seconds of ruck time. It is absolutely critical that the shippers (Ludlam, Genge and Dombrandt) need to win the collision with the next man by committing to speed up recycling; that’s when Marcus can weave the magic out of him, and he relies on that quick ruck to give him half a yard to attack with. If those contact men don’t get along well enough and if Scotland messed up the speed of the ruck, this could be a very difficult day in the office for England,” Easter said.


“You don’t put Marcus Smith and Finn Russell against each other without them getting a mention, and they’ll both entertain. It really depends on who gets that ruck speed and drive to figure out who wins that one-on-one battle. Russell probably lost the head-to-head, but he won the war when Racing 92 played the Harlequins a couple of weeks ago, and I’m sure that didn’t escape Smith’s attention.

“Elsewhere, Matt Fagerson versus Alex Dombrandt at eight is an excellent matchup: Fagerson’s grit and steel versus Dommers’ running lines and intellect. It’s key that Alex continue his great jackal work on the break, but when he charges, he has to either go for a clean break or stick with him. Both men are essential to their sides, and with Tests of this nature with such close margins, I think whoever wins this personal head-to-head will win the match.

“The result: My head says Scotland could have enough game and physique, but Borthwick has a very clear game plan. If England execute as well as planned they should win by eight or nine, but don’t underestimate Scotland – they are a cunning and well-rounded team who will carry England to the end,” Easter concluded.

READ MORE: Six Nations: Steve Borthwick names his first England squad for Scotland clash

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