Scots hoping England remain in flux for Six Nations match

LONDON (AP) " Michael Jackson's "Thriller" was on top of the U.K. album charts. Larry Holmes was the world heavyweight champion.

That's how long it's been since Scotland beat England at Twickenham.

Jim Telfer's Scots would have laughed after winning the Five Nations wooden spoon decider that day in March 1983, if someone had said a Scot would win Wimbledon before Scotland would win at Twickenham again.

That the drought could end on Saturday was made obvious by England coach Eddie Jones' demeanour at his last news conference on Thursday before the Six Nations match.

Jones wasn't his usual cheeky and brazen self. Instead, he was spiky, evasive, and short with his answers.

Because the Scots are coming, fueled by their deepest belief and best results in years. They have beaten Ireland for the first time in four years and Wales for the first time in 10, playing with daring and design, and scoring bunches of tries.

Not just a first Triple Crown in 27 years is possible for Scotland, but ultimately a first Six Nations title in 18 years, too.

"I want the players to play to their potential and enjoy the opportunity which comes with this game," coach Vern Cotter says.

But if England plays to its potential, this won't be a contest. England is on all kids of rolls. Another win would extend its run against Scotland to eight, extend its championship-winning streak to a record 11, and its overall victory streak to 18, matching New Zealand for the tier one record.

But there are doubts in English minds because the side has yet to fire in the championship, having to rely on its reserves to pull out wins against France and Wales.

Fortunately for Jones, the reserves keep on upgrading every week. This week, he could summon destructive No. 8 Billy Vunipola, who returned to club action last weekend after hurting his knee in November. The bench, featuring the Vunipola brothers, Danny Care, Anthony Watson, and the unlucky Jamie George, keeps getting more impressive in each round.

It stands the English in good stead for the Six Nations finale in Dublin next week. They just need to get past the Scots.

It's to England's great credit that it has remained undefeated without playing well. But Jones has to be worried that it will not find another escape route if Scotland can produce another allround, never-say-die, inspired effort.

If Scotland has a weakness, it's the scrum, which leaks penalties. It was shaky against France, and a little better against Wales. England's pack was much superior to both of theirs. Still, veteran Scotland hooker Ross Ford played down any vulnerability.

"You're always going to get the odd penalty or free kick against you. That's the big thing - having the ball ready to play, and when it's there, the ref's more inclined to let it play," he says.

"England are just another pack. We've come up against some good packs in Ireland, France, and Wales but we know what we can do well and what areas to target - there's no fear."

Scotland has always had a good pack, and its fortunes have vastly improved thanks to a backline which is finally not wasting hard-won possession. Finn Russell has also stepped up in the injury-enforced absence of captain Greig Laidlaw and kicked nine out of 10 of his goalshots.

Scotland changed only its openside flanker because of injury, while England recalled backs Ben Youngs, Jonathan Joseph, and Jack Nowell after being bamboozled by Italy.

Jones says, "We feel like a good performance is just around the corner." But he's said that before every game in the championship.



England: Mike Brown, Jack Nowell, Jonathan Joseph, Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Nathan Hughes, James Haskell, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury, Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley (captain), Joe Marler. Reserves: Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Tom Wood, Billy Vunipola, Danny Care, Ben Te'o, Anthony Watson.

Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Alex Dunbar, Tim Visser, Finn Russell, Alistair Price; Ryan Wilson, Hamish Watson, John Barclay (captain), Jonny Gray, Richie Gray, Zander Fagerson, Fraser Brown, Gordon Reid. Reserves: Ross Ford, Allan Dell, Simon Berghan, Tim Swinson, Cornell Du Preez, Henry Pyrgos, Duncan Weir, Mark Bennett.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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