Scotland are a big banana skin for improving England

ENGLAND are just getting into their stride as they prepare to face Scotland tomorrow. They should be very satisfied with the win and improved performance against Romania last week, and key players, like Chris Ashton, are coming into form. They must be feeling confident and I certainly wouldn’t like to be facing them this weekend.

Scotland, however, are a banana skin. They can lose like they did against Argentina last week and yet come back against a stronger nation, outperform themselves and surprise everyone – or they can collapse. England know it’s going to be tough.

The Scots tend to play better against the Auld Enemy. In the Six Nations their mentality has been that they are not too worried where they come as long as they beat England. They bat above their average and historically they have earned upsets.

The men in blue also have a big advantage, tactically and psychologically. They know exactly what they need to do to qualify. It’s do or die, it’s effectively a knockout stage, and they have to win by eight points or score four tries. That helps them prepare a little bit better.

It’s vital, therefore, that England also treat this game like a quarter-final. They mustn’t get caught between two approaches or play a defensive game. They have to put points on the board and be absolutely clinical.

ENFORCER
I think we are now seeing manager Martin Johnson’s first XV, fitness permitting. Mark Cueto will probably come back for Delon Armitage in the knockout stages while Tom Palmer can perhaps feel a little hard done by, given his success in the line-out – which I think will be a big issue tomorrow – but the return of Courtney Lawes (below) is a big boost.

Lawes is a handful, an enforcer, extremely aggressive in the loose and can be England’s Richie McCaw. The effect the All Black skipper has without the ball – the hits he puts in, the carnage he creates in the breakdown – Lawes has a touch of that and it’s something England really do need.

England’s problems have been a lack of continuity with the ball in hand and being penalised at the breakdown. That elusive synergy between backs and forwards is starting to come – they are keeping hold of the ball, making inroads and putting in the likes of Ashton. But they must be disciplined.

I don’t believe Scotland can live with them if England don’t give away penalties and minimise their errors. But if they get on the wrong side of the referee, get a few sin bins, make a few mistakes or even give away an intercept try then it could be a horrible day for England.

World Cup winner Kyran Bracken (@kyranbracken) was speaking courtesy of GamePlan Solutions: managing high profile and popular sport stars; speakers, leaders, motivators and ambassadors www.gameplansolutions.co.uk