Six Nations: Scotland v England key clashes that could decide the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield

The 140th meeting of Scotland and England will unfold at a sold-out Murrayfield on Saturday as supporters return to the Six Nations after last year’s Covid-enforced absence. Here’s where the game is likely to be decided:

Gregor Townsend v Eddie Jones

The two coaches are locking horns for the fifth time in the Calcutta Cup and Townsend holds the upper hand with two wins, a draw and a defeat. Jones has had plenty to say in the build-up – nothing new there – and has declared Scotland “red hot favourites”. The bookmakers think otherwise but Scotland look to be at full strength and Townsend sounds confident. He has talked about delivering performances in all five matches and believes his players now have the experience to find a way to win against different types of opposition. Jones, by contrast, has been bedeviled by injuries and his pronouncements this week have sounded a little lame. He heads north with seven starters possessing 10 caps or fewer and experience is everything in this fixture.

Finn Russell v Marcus Smith

Sorcerer v apprentice, as Finn Russell takes on Marcus Smith in the battle of the playmakers. Smith’s rise has been meteoric. While most young men his age were wondering where to go interrailing, Smith spent last summer guiding Harlequins to the Premiership title, winning his first England cap and then being called up by the Lions. He and Russell struck up a good relationship in South Africa and Gregor Townsend said the pair were “incredible” in training. Comparisons are inevitable. Both are creative, imaginative and not afraid to take risks. The difference is that Russell has been doing this at Test level for nine years while Smith is making his Six Nations debut. Decision-making is key at No 10 – can Smith keep his head amid the bedlam at Murrayfield?

Front row battle

One area in which England aren’t lacking experience is the front row. Ellis Genge, Cowan-Dickie and Sinckler form a hardy trio and the two props were involved when England won at storm-tossed Murrayfield in 2020, Genge nicking the game’s only try. Cowan-Dickie has never been on the winning side against Scotland and is up against an on-form George Turner at hooker. The return of Rory Sutherland will bolster the home pack and Townsend has Pierre Schoeman as loosehead back-up. Tighthead Zander Fagerson rubbed shoulders with Sinckler and Cowan-Dickie on the Lions tour and should reap the benefits of his South African experience even if he was overlooked for the Tests. It’ll be a fascinating duel and one which will keep Kiwi ref Ben O’Keeffe on his toes.

Tom Curry v Stuart Hogg

Scotland's Finn Russell with head coach Gregor Townsend. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA

Hogg has grown into the Scotland captaincy and now seems to revel in the role. He enjoyed a record-breaking autumn when his two tries against South Africa and one against Japan took him to 25 in total, nudging him ahead of Ian Smith and Tony Stanger at the top of the all-time Scotland list. A passionate player, Hogg has learned to channel his emotions in the right way.

Curry comes to Murrayfield as England’s youngest captain since Will Carling in 1988. Those are big boots to fill and the 23-year-old openside will look to the likes of Ben Youngs, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Kyle Sinckler for support. Eddie Jones likened Curry to All Blacks great Richie McCaw on Thursday which is a bit of a stretch and Hogg should have enough nous to edge this particular contest.

Scotland are looking to retain the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield.
England's Marcus Smith will be making his Six Nations debut. Picture: John Walton/PA
This year's captains Stuart Hogg and Tom Curry do battle during last year's Calcutta Cup clash. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
England head coach Eddie Jones has likened Tom Curry to Richie McCaw. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA