Scotland pining for pieces of eight
September 29, 2011
England's front-row will be up and against a physical Scotland back on Saturday © Getty Images
England and Scotland lock horns once again in what promises to be tournament deciding encounter in Auckland on Saturday.
Andy Robinson's Scotland suffered '30 seconds of madness' against Argentina eventually losing 13-12 in a compelling clash last weekend. The result means Robinson's side now face an uphill battle to qualify for the knockout stages of the tournament - a feat they have managed in every global gathering to date. Much depends on how Argentina get on against the physical Georgians but if Robinson's side win by eight points then they will be guaranteed a spot in the quarter-finals.
However, the last time Scotland beat England by more than the aforementioned eight points was at Murrayfield in 1986 so history is against them. But Robinson is certainly not afraid of making big decisions as he showed when he dropped his captain Al Kellock from the team for the match against the Pumas last weekend.
England, meanwhile, have had another week under the media spotlight following 'ballgate.' Dave Alred and Paul Stridgeon have been forced to sit out the clash after being suspended by the Rugby Football Union for their role in the substitution of balls prior to Jonny Wilkinson's conversion attempts against Romania. The news would not have pleased Martin Johnson who would have hoped to have kept the focus on the pitch rather than adding fuel to the fire off it.
Despite this, England turned in arguably their best performance of the World Cup so far last weekend when they ran in ten tries against Romania with wing duo Chris Ashton and Mark Cueto running in hat-tricks.
Come Saturday, all eyes will be solely on the clash at Eden Park. With the knockout stages just one round of games away, it is likely that one of the two Auld Enemies will be packing their bags and preparing to return home come Sunday.
England - Player to Watch: Courtney Lawes returns after sitting out the previous two matches through suspension and he will look to re-assert his physical presence in the second-row. Partnered by Louis Deacon he will hope to prove to Martin Johnson that he should be charged with the lock berth if England progress to the knockout stages.
England - Team News: England have made three changes from the side which so ably despatched Romania. Despite scoring a hat-trick, Cueto finds himself missing out on a spot in the matchday 22 with Delon Armitage starting on the flank and Matt Banahan coming onto the bench. Lawes starts at lock while Matt Stevens starts at loose-head. Alex Corbisiero drops to the bench and is joined by Nick Easter.
Scotland - Player to Watch: Mike Blair has received a huge confidence boost from Robinson after being named at scrum-half. The halfback has found himself behind Rory Lawson in the pecking order but his inclusion illustrates Robinson's trust in the 74 capped scrum-half.
Scotland - Team News: Robinson has made six changes and one positional switch from the side which lost to the Pumas. Second row Alastair Kellock returns as captain, Euan Murray is to start at tight-head prop, Richie Vernon at No.8, Mike Blair at scrum-half, Simon Danielli on the wing and Joe Ansbro at outside centre, while Sean Lamont moves to inside centre. Out go Jim Hamilton, Geoff Cross, Kelly Brown, Rory Lawson, Graeme Morrison and Nick De Luca, who has dropped to the replacements' bench.
Key Battle: Matt Stevens is up against Euan Murray in the front-row in what looks set to be an epic encounter. Scotland's pack - minus Murray - impressed against the Pumas so Murray will look to show Robinson his capabilities while Stevens will hope to prove to Johnson that he is the best man to fill Andy Sheridan's sizeable shoes.
Stats: England have conceded the second most penalties per game with an average of 13.3 thus far.
Trivia: After being named at fullback - Chris Paterson becomes Scotland's most capped player in World Cup history with 15 appearances.
"It's knockout rugby. Let's not worry about points difference. We have to win, they have to win."
"The stage is set for what I am sure will be an occasion worthy of everything this fixture means to both countries and their supporters. The atmosphere in Wellington last weekend was exceptional but I believe at a sell-out Eden Park on Saturday it would be even better."
Prediction: This is a tough one to call. Knockout rugby typically showcases the best and worse sides of teams and with so much at stake, expect England to edge the clash in a kick fest.
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