Scotland arrive at Twickenham this weekend to contest the oldest fixture in rugby: the Calcutta Cup. Steeped in history and always full of passion, it is fixture like no other. Form and pride are left at the door; when that whistle goes the players are focussed on nothing else but the 80 minutes in front of them.
England's Strengths/Scotland's Weaknesses
In a very short space of time, England have laid the foundations for what could become a hugely successful front five. Always an area that has an influence on the outcome of games these days, it could again play a key role this weekend. Scotland have picked a giant pack, but England are more than capable of dealing with it.
In the scrum, Dan Cole is as good as they come at tight-head and is also a nuisance at the breakdown. Joe Launchbury and Geoff Parling compliment each other perfectly, the former all fire and brawn to the latter's composure and intelligence. Joe Marler and Tom Youngs are still learning at this level but have shown immense potential in the short time they have spent there.
For Scotland, the hardest part is going to be reconvening under the tutelage of a new head coach who has no experience at this level. Scott Johnson was assistant coach, and now has the top job on an interim basis, and although he talks a good game he has yet to prove it on the pitch.
Ruaridh Jackson is charged with leading the Scottish backline this weekend, in a position that no-body has nailed down for about a decade now. He will be under intense pressure to deliver. In the centres, there is a dearth of creativity with two hard-hitting players, Matt Scott and Sean Lamont, being selected. As has so often been the case for Scotland, their exciting back three may struggle to get any ball.
Scotland's strengths/England's weaknesses
As touched upon above, Scotland have an immensely exciting back three. Most of the media spotlight has so far fallen on Sean Maitland, the Kiwi-come-Scot who only arrived in Glasgow at the beginning of the season. Tipped as a future All-Black at one point, he is something of a coup for Scotland and has been fast-tracked into the starting line-up.
On the other wing, Tim Visser has made a habit of scoring tries in a Scotland shirt. The Dutchman, who qualified for Scotland last year under the residency rule, even bagged a brace against New Zealand in the autumn, a feat not achieved by many. Stuart Hogg is the full-back, and anyone who saw him play against the England Saxons last year will remember his dazzling 60 metre try that preceded his ascension to the full team.
Potent counter-attackers abound, then, and this is particularly concerning when you consider how England have set themselves up. With Owen Farrell at fly-half we can expect plenty of kicking, and if he gets it even marginally wrong that back three could well punish England.
The midfield is a worry for England, too. Debutant Billy Twelvetrees is a fine player at Premiership level, but there have been countless examples of good domestic players not translating form to the international stage. Manu Tuilagi, a player who can look truly world-class, is a huge loss. Brad Barritt takes his position, and as a result England lose a huge amount of attacking threat. They will have to work hard to drag themselves over the gain-line in Tuilagi's absence.
The Twickenham factor will play its part. The atmosphere in the stadium for the New Zealand match was feral, and if it is half that intense on Saturday Scotland will struggle. Dean Ryan, newly appointed Scotland coach, has a knowledge of England's players from his time as an analyst at Sky Sports. This could provide an interesting angle to proceedings, as Scotland's players will have been well versed in the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents.
The Calcutta Cup has not always produced vintage rugby over the past few seasons, but it is always intriguing. Scotland haven't won since 2008, and will be desperate to get that trophy back. Each of the last four encounters has been decided by 7 points or less. This one could well go the same way.
England 22 - 15 Scotland