England coach Eddie Jones labelling Scotland “red-hot favourites” for the old rivals’ Six Nations opener at Murrayfield on Saturday is a familiar ploy, but he may have a point.
The 62-year-old Australian is well known for trying to unsettle opponents with some choice words to the media.
But with England having beaten world champions South Africa in November, why bother with prematch mind games?
Injuries, however, have deprived Jones of first-choice captain Owen Farrell and back-up skipper Courtney Lawes, as well as Jonny May, Anthony Watson, Manu Tuilagi, Sam Underhill, Jonny Hill, and the Vunipola brothers for the latest edition of rugby’s oldest international fixture.
England are now set to face a rather more settled Scotland, whom Jones thinks are “probably two years ahead of us in terms of their development.”
The Scots will also be playing in front of a 67,000 capacity crowd at their Edinburgh headquarters after a 2021 Six Nations staged behind closed doors because of the coronavirus pandemic.
This weekend’s forecast wet and windy weather have often helped cause the Edinburgh downfall of many a more mature England side.
“It’s the first time I’ve had the experience of going up there when Scotland have been red-hot favourites,” said Jones.
“They’re expected to win…they’ve got to cope with that.”
No wonder Scotland counterpart Gregor Townsend, whose improving side beat England last year – the Scots’ first Calcutta Cup triumph at Twickenham since 1983, said: “Every coach does this little song and dance going into a game trying to convince the media they’re underdogs.”
With Farrell and Lawes ruled out, Jones has appointed Tom Curry as captain with the 23-year-old flanker England’s youngest skipper since Will Carling in 1988.
And in another piece of pre-game theatre, Jones promptly said Curry reminded him of New Zealand great Richie McCaw in that he could “lead by example.”
Jones preferred Smith to 77-cap veteran George Ford in his starting XV for Saturday, saying: “Every young 10 starts off at this stage – there are doubts about his experience to handle the pressure of the situation.
“At some stage they play a game bigger than they’ve ever played. I’ve got no doubt Marcus has got the desire and the drive to be one of the best 10s in the world…There’s no reason why he can’t handle Saturday.”
It was Smith’s last-ditch penalty that sealed a one-point win over the Springboks in November, with Jones saying: “He was able to get use from our 22 to their 22 to kick the goal to win the game.
“He made calculated decisions on when to move the ball and when to kick the ball and he’ll do that again on Saturday.”
And then, one last jibe.
“I’m sure they are going to come at him. Scotland brag about being able to get into the psychology of England, don’t they? So let’s see on Saturday.”
© Agence France-Presse
Photo: Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)