Fighting talk as England look for a response at Murrayfield

Lewis Ludlam has promised Scotland a “war” fuelled by hatred as England attempt to make amends for their passive opening to the Guinness Six Nations.

Wednesday, 5th February 2020, 10:35 pm
Lewis Ludlam.

Eddie Jones’s squad head to Murrayfield on Saturday with the aim of propelling themselves back into title contention after falling 24-17 to France on a pride-bruising afternoon in Paris.

Ludlam bristles at the perception that Celtic nations play with more passion than England and has placed Scotland on alert for what is coming at them.

“I disagree actually. We are emotionally there. They hate us and we hate them. There is no difference,” the Northampton flanker said.

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“It’s just another place to go. It’s a battle. It’s going to be a war and it’s something we’re excited for and we’ll be ready for.

“We are going out to get stuck into them and they are going to do the same to us. I don’t think there is any difference in the passion between the two sides.

“Whenever you pull on the shirt, it is a proud moment, it is a passionate experience. They won’t be any more revved up than we are for it.”

Jones declared France would face “brutal physicality” and a “violent” gainline onslaught”, but instead it was England who were outmuscled – just three months after being overwhelmed by South Africa in the World Cup final.

“It wasn’t the result we wanted against France. The best teams don’t roll over and take a performance like that. They come back fighting. That is something we are thinking about,” Ludlam said.

“We’re going to come out fighting. We’re revved up. We want to be brutal. We don’t want to give them an inch to breathe. We’re coming for them.”

England enter the Calcutta Cup clash as heavy favourites but they have only a 48 per cent win rate at Murrayfield, which was the setting for the start of their five-Test losing run in 2018 that placed Jones’s future in doubt.

“I love being not necessarily the underdog but the team that everyone is rooting against,” Ludlam said.

“That helps me definitely to get revved up for a game. People being against you has got a way of really revving you up.

“For my second cap away at Wales there were old ladies and kids giving you the finger going into the stadium.

“That gives you goosebumps and gives you something to say: ‘We will shut you up with the rugby’.

“It’s all fuel to the fire for me. It adds to my performance and the whole passion and story of it all. That definitely helps get me excited about the game.”

There will be at least two changes to England’s starting XV when Jones names his team on Thursday morning.

Charlie Ewels, a starter in Paris, has been dropped from the squad so George Kruis is likely to come into the second row to partner Maro Itoje.

Manu Tuilagi has been ruled out by a groin strain with Jonathan Joseph favourite to replace him.

Anthony Watson will miss a second-successive Six Nations match after suffering a setback in his recovery from a calf problem.

The England wing has been ruled out of Saturday’s Calcutta Cup showdown following an aborted return to training on Tuesday, pointing to the retention of George Furbank at full-back.

Watson suffered the injury on Champions Cup duty for Bath last month and – while he was pencilled in to start the 24-17 defeat by France that opened the Championship – he was forced to withdraw on the eve of the team announcement in Paris.

“Anthony has felt it a bit today (Wednesday). He’s not going to train today so we won’t consider him for Scotland,” forwards coach Matt Proudfoot said.

“We’ll see how he goes through rehab for the rest of the week. On the training field yesterday he felt it again, so we’re just taking a precaution with that.”

Losing Watson is a blow given England’s back three has an unsettled look.

Furbank struggled on his international debut at the Stade de France, making a string of conspicuous errors, and would almost certainly have made way for Watson had his calf issue not resurfaced.

Elliot Daly had been first choice full-back since July 2018 but Eddie Jones sees his future on the left wing and – along with several of his Saracens team-mates on parade – he endured a quiet afternoon in Paris.

England will persist with the experiment of playing flanker Tom Curry at No 8 in the absence of Billy Vunipola, who will miss the entire tournament because of a broken arm.

Curry was a world player of the year nominee for 2019 due to a string of outstanding performances, including at the World Cup, but he made little impact against France.

Proudfoot, however, insists the 21-year-old needs time to learn the nuances of a tricky position.

“It’s very difficult. Any part of the spine – two, five, eight, nine, 10, 15 – are tough positions,” Proudfoot said.

“They’re not positions you just need to be physically prepared for, you have to make decisions and be tactically prepared for them. That is a tough transition.

No extra three-quarter cover has been called-up for Tuilagi, so wing Ollie Thorley will make his Test debut at Murrayfield, either as a starter or replacement. Saracens flanker Ben Earl is included but is unlikely to be involved.