Six Nations 2012: New-look England search for redemption
Head coach Stuart Lancaster has revamped the England squad after their dismal showing at the World Cup in 2011
Stuart Lancaster is clearly initiating change within the England camp with three debutants, a vastly younger squad and only six survivors from the World Cup quarter-final defeat by France.
Given the dark cloud that had descended on English rugby over the World Cup, interim head coach Lancaster’s changes are timely.
The World Cup shambles was derided throughout rugby, not least from Scotland coach Andy Robinson, himself the former England manager, who spoke of England’s arrogance.
If Saturday’s Calcutta Cup match needed any further spice added to the occasion, Robinson’s comments did it.
Some of Lancaster’s changes in the England camp are forced.
Were it not for Manu Tuilagi’s injury, either Brad Barritt or Owen Farrell would be making their debut rather than both.
An injury to Toby Flood gives Charlie Hodgson a chance to re-write the wrongs of his international past, while Courtney Lawes’ injury has handed South African-born Mouritz Botha a chance for his second cap.
But this is not an experimental side.
Though 30-year-old Phil Dowson might be making his entry into test rugby later than most, the Northampton back row can feel he has more than justified selection over the past few years.
He will form a brand new back row alongside Tom Croft and new skipper Chris Robshaw, himself only making his second England appearance.
The lack of a true ball-fetching open-side may hinder England, but with Robshaw and Croft they will hope to mix power and graft to good effect.
They will be packing down behind Botha and Tom Palmer, themselves forming an athletic second row. With a grizzly front row of Alex Corbisiero, Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole, England will aim to keep up with undoubtedly Scotland’s most potent weapon: their forwards.
Behind the pack lies a quartet of Saracens players. The much-maligned Hodgson is perhaps the most gifted attacking fly-half in the northern hemisphere while winger David Strettle offers a weaving counter-balance to Chris Ashton’s sheer pace.
Centre Barritt boasts boundless energy and he will run and tackle hard for the England cause.
But the real diamond among these players is Owen Farrell – who stands at inside centre, sandwiched between Hodgson and Barritt. The 20-year-old has a calmness and maturity beyond his tender years, and his kicking game, mixing deft grubbers with excellent touch-finders, will keep Scotland on the back foot.
While Andy Farrell’s sojourn in Rugby Union was disappointing, such is the way Farrell junior has acquired so many of his traits it seems as though the former Rugby League Man of Steel’s impact may well be long lasting.
Scrum-half Ben Youngs, Ashton and full-back Ben Foden represent the mainstays of the back division, but are acutely aware that Lee Dickson, Jordan Turner-Hall and Mike Brown all eagerly await their chance.
Bookmakers across the board make England favourites for the Calcutta Cup clash, though you’d have to go back to 2004 to find England’s last victory at Murrayfield.
Lancaster will no doubt make his team well aware of this, conscious of Robinson’s criticism resonating throughout the camp.
Indeed if England can play with Lancaster’s steely determination and work ethic they will go some way to restoring their pride.