Off the pitch they are the best of mates, but on Saturday Ollie Lawrence and Cameron Redpath will go head-to-head in a midfield battle that could determine the outcome of the 150th Calcutta Cup match at Twickenham.
The selection of the former England Under-20s team-mates on opposing sides provides a delightful subplot to the Six Nations opener and the two rookies have been cast in key roles.
Lawrence makes his first championship start and also his first appearance at inside centre for England as Eddie Jones, the head coach, once again tweaks his midfield as the search continues to find his best balance in the continued absence of Manu Tuilagi.
Redpath, son of former Scotland captain Bryan, will make his Scottish debut just a month after declaring for the land of his father despite having represented England at both Under-18s and Under-20s.
The 21-year-old Bath centre was also selected for the senior tour of South Africa in 2018 before he was forced to withdraw because of a knee injury and was identified as a potential Test star by the Rugby Football Union’s international player development team several years ago.
If his decision to opt for Scotland has been swiftly rewarded by head coach Gregor Townsend, then Owen Farrell, the England captain, suggested it is unlikely to be lost on Lawrence.
“I’m sure as friends you get competitive, don’t you?” said Farrell when asked about the prospect of the mates facing each other. “If one gets a chance to get one up on his mate, they’ll let him know about it afterwards. I’m sure they’ll be competitive.
“We’ve not discussed too many specifics yet. They’re two good young players, aren’t they? I’ve met Cameron but I’ve not been around him too much. From what I’ve seen of him he’s a brilliant player.
“He’ll be a big threat for them and hopefully Ollie will be for us. It should be a brilliant occasion all round.”
Lawrence’s elevation comes at the considerable expense of demoting George Ford, with Owen Farrell switching to fly-half and Henry Slade retaining his place at outside centre.
It is a combination most similar to the one that took apart Australia in the World Cup quarter-final in Japan in 2019, when Tuilagi started at 12 with Farrell at fly-half and also echoes the line-up that overpowered Ireland in their Six Nations opener in Dublin that year.
Lawrence made his debut off the bench in the Six Nations victory over Italy last October and started at outside centre for the opening Autumn Nations Cup game against Georgia. But the switch to 12 should allow England to exploit his gain-line-breaking ability more effectively, particularly in the tight opening exchanges, after a low-key introduction to Test rugby last autumn.
“Ollie is a destructive player,” Farrell added. “He hits hard, he runs hard and causes defences problems. He has got good feet as well. He is sharp. We want him to do what he is good at.
“We want him to get into the game in the way he has done for his club and he has shown in the Premiership and shown us in training. It is fairly simple of him doing what he does well and that’s how we will see the best of him.”
Against a Scotland backline that thrives on quick ball and Finn Russell’s attacking genius, England appear to be intent on going for the jugular and Lawrence’s directness should address their lack of cohesion in the autumn.
“Ollie is a bit of a project player for us. He’s been given huge raps at Worcester. He’s got a long way to go in terms of his development. He’s a player full of potential. Now what we want to see is that talent coming out consistently. And he’s got the opportunity on Saturday to do that.”
The return of Mark Wilson to the back row in the absence of Sam Underhill is also a sign of intent that England are determined to go hard at the breakdown, with Tom Curry back to his more regular position of openside flanker.
It is also a big opportunity for Ellis Genge and Will Stuart given the front-row injuries and it will be fascinating to see Beno Obano’s impact off the bench, while fit-again Courtney Lawes and Ben Earl will be desperate to add to the power play.
After an autumn campaign when England failed to rediscover their attacking prowess, Jones has selected a balanced and powerful line-up that will only be too eager to leave Redpath questioning his decision.
The 150th anniversary of rugby union’s oldest fixture should not disappoint.
‘Jones has picked a side to make a statement at Twickenham’
Charlie Morgan’s analysis of today’s team announcement is live.
“To be frank, in recent times, England have not spent long enough in possession before kicking to settle into anything more expansive. Given the hints from their hooker, though, they are working on a more intricate strategy.”
And with that, I’ll close off this blog. Saturday’s going to be a lot of fun.
Reaction to come
Including analysis from Charlie Morgan on how England will approach Saturday’s game.
All feels fairly… straightforward?
England opting for the power of Ollie Lawrence over going with Ford and Farrell is interesting, and it’s a big game for Genge and Stuart to lay down a marker. Mark Wilson offers so much defensively and at the breakdown. That’s a powerful XV. Hopefully May and Watson will get to do a bit more than chase kicks all day…
Eddie Jones’ thoughts
We’re really looking forward to this game and getting the Guinness Six Nations back underway. It’s even more special to be taking part in a 150th anniversary game, it will be a good occasion.
It was difficult to pick the 23 players. We’ve had a really good week of training, it’s been very competitive but I’ve gone with what I feel is the strongest 23 for this week.
The Six Nations is a short tournament, it’s a real sprint so we’ll need to be on the front foot straight away. We know Scotland will be raring to go – but so will we.
- Beno Obano poised to make his debut off the bench
- Mark Wilson’s first cap since facing Wales in the 2020 Six Nations
- Jonny Hill picked over Courtney Lawes at lock
- No space in the 23 for uncapped Paolo Odogwu or Harry Randall
England team to face Scotland
15. Elliot Daly (Saracens, 47 caps)
14. Anthony Watson (Bath, 46 caps)
13. Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs, 34 caps)
12. Ollie Lawrence (Worcester Warriors, 3 caps)
11. Jonny May (Gloucester, 61 caps)
10. Owen Farrell (c) (Saracens, 88 caps)
9. Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 104 caps)
1. Ellis Genge (Leicester Tigers, 23 caps)
2. Jamie George (Saracens, 54 caps)
3. Will Stuart (Bath, 8 caps)
4. Maro Itoje (Saracens, 43 caps)
5. Jonny Hill (Exeter Chiefs, 4 caps)
6. Mark Wilson (Newcastle Falcons, 19 caps)
7. Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, 28 caps)
8. Billy Vunipola (Saracens, 56 caps)
16. Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, 26 caps) 17. Beno Obano (Bath, uncapped) 18. Harry Williams (Exeter Chiefs, 18 caps) 19. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, 85 caps) 20. Ben Earl (Bristol Bears, 8 caps) 21. Dan Robson (Wasps, 7 caps) 22. George Ford (Leicester Tigers, 72 caps) 23. Max Malins (Bristol Bears, 3 caps)
Few minutes to go
Be excellent to see Malins get a go at full-back, or Randall at scrum-half, but I’m not hedging my bets.
The Calcutta Cup – always a friendly affair
Enjoyable column from Doddie Weir on the “affection” often shown between England and Scotland in this historic fixture.
Here’s Doddie on Brian Moore:
He inspired a different type of anger. Andrew, Healey, Dawson, those guys you felt deserved a slap; Moore you just really wanted to punch.
News from the camp
Jonny May, one of England’s best players under Jones, addressed his hopes to be part of the Lions tour on Wednesday, after wearing the kit for a photoshoot.
It’s just strange isn’t it. You haven’t earned it yet or got there, but you are trying the kit on. It’s weird.It’s always a strange day when we come in and do our photos. I don’t really like doing that. But you get it done and try to get back to what you’re doing, which at the moment is trying to play for England, get better and prepare for a test match at the weekend.
Pick your XV
Still plenty of time until the official announcement, so have a go at selecting your XV below.
A new Six Nations is almost upon us, would you believe it. Perhaps it’s because of the lack of fans, or that the annual media scrap that is the Six Nations Launch last week took place virtually, but it almost feels as though the competition has snuck up on us all.
England and Eddie Jones of course will beg to differ, with the players being put through their paces this week at their newly-adopted home of The Lensbury in Teddington, where they were also based throughout the autumn.
In terms of selection, Jones and his coaching staff have not been stretched this much in the pack for some time. England go into Saturday’s game against Scotland without their two looseheads, Mako Vunipola and Joe Marler, opening the door for Ellis Genge and perhaps one of Beno Obano (Bath) or Tom West (Wasps) to made their debut this weekend.
Kyle Sinckler is suspended, handing Will Stuart a chance to impress and reintroduce his mullet to a national audience, while at lock, Joe Launchbury was in sensational form before being struck down by an ill-timed injury.
Take out Sam Underhill too from the back row and England’s pack is set to look very different against Scotand. At least the backs should be familiar, but a trio of in-form players are hammering on Jones’ door for selection; Bristol scrum-half Harry Randall, Wasps wing Paolo Odogwu and another Bristol player in full-back Max Malins. Will Jones stick with his trusted backline operators – think Ben Youngs, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly – or mix things up? Knowing the England coach, the safe option seems more likely.
Speaking of Malins, here’s a nice line about how nervous he was the first time he worked with Jonny Wilkinson, who now helps out as a kicking coach on England’s staff.
“I had a group session with Jonny a few years back and met him on a couple of camps. On the first time I was curled up into a little ball, a nervous wreck!” Malins said.
“It’s still very surreal that he’s in and around these camps when he was someone I looked up to and wanted to be as a young boy. After each time I see him I get more normalised by it, but there’s still that tingling inside which is awesome.
“I was very outcome driven with my kicking a few years back and Jonny’s very much about the process and deeper thinking behind it.
“Now I just go out and kick a ball and don’t worry about where it has gone, it’s all about the why and how you feel. That’s something I’ve learned from him.”
Lovely stuff (we’ve all been there). Anyway, team news coming up at 11.