Borderers Stuart Hogg and Gregor Townsend well up for cup to kick off 2022’s Six Nations

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend and captain Stuart Hogg say they’re relishing the prospect of kicking off their 2022 Six Nations campaign at home to England.

By Darin Hutson
Wednesday, 26th January 2022, 5:55 pm
Updated Wednesday, 2nd February 2022, 2:26 pm
Scotland captain Stuart Hogg, seen here playing for Exeter Chiefs against Bristol Bears earlier this month, warns that England will still be a daunting proposition even without captain Owen Farrell (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Scotland captain Stuart Hogg, seen here playing for Exeter Chiefs against Bristol Bears earlier this month, warns that England will still be a daunting proposition even without captain Owen Farrell (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Keeping hold of the Calcutta Cup they won in London last year would be the ideal start to the tournament and they’re delighted to be presented with an opportunity to do that come Saturday, February 5, say the Borders pair.

It’s just short of 12 months ago that Scotland regained the cup with an 11-6 victory at Twickenham Stadium, their first win against the English there since 1983, and their aim now is to retain it at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium.

“The Six Nations is a brilliant championship,” said ex-Gala star Townsend at the official launch of the tournament yesterday. “It’s a privilege to be involved in it, and having crowds back makes it even more special this year.

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Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend watching his side's match against Japan at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh in November (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

“We know this is the biggest game we face. It's such a historic game. We play for a historic trophy and it’s 151 years old now this fixture.

“Having it first up adds a buzz around the Six Nations.

“It will focus our minds next week when we start to analyse more of what England could bring, but now it’s about us – how we get our game together, that shared model of how we play and how we act as team-mates.

“It’s been great to see everyone back together.”

Ex-Hawick player Hogg added: “We know it’s going to be tough and physical, but these are the games you want to be involved in.

“I know I speak on behalf of everyone involved in the Scotland camp when I say we’re excited for next weekend.

“It’s the best opportunity to kick off the Six Nations by playing England at home. We love that game.

“As a proud Scotsman, playing England in Edinburgh is the game we always look forward to.”

England suffered a blow with confirmation this week that their captain Owen Farrell will miss the entirety of the 2022 championship due to an ankle injury picked up in training for club side Saracens.

He had looked set to form a potent 10-12 partnership with 22-year-old fly-half Marcus Smith but England head coach Eddie Jones now looks likely to rethink how he will deploy the youngster.

Though he acknowledges England will miss Farrell, Hogg, having faced Harlequins star Smith for club side Exeter Chiefs earlier this month and losing 14-12, warns they will still be a tough proposition thanks to their young playmaker.

“They’re both fantastic rugby players,” said the 29-year-old.

“Owen has got that huge amount of experience and is a born winner. He’ll be a huge loss. He’s been an unbelievable leader for England over the last few seasons.

“Like anybody out injured, though, it gives an opportunity for somebody else to come in. England have got an embarrassment of riches.

“Marcus is young, coming through, an incredible talent. He doesn’t take himself too seriously off the field but he works incredibly hard on the training field. I think he’s an exciting talent, a really exciting talent.

“We played against him a few weeks ago and at times he was winding me up with his eyes and hand signals of what he was going to be doing. He was putting me left, right and Chelsea, so I didn’t know what he was going to be doing!

“He’s a quality player and no doubt he’ll have a big impact on how England do in this campaign.”

Townsend, 48, added: “We know it’s a huge fixture for our players, our country.

“I think that for most teams that play England in the Six Nations, it’s their biggest fixture. It is for us.

“It’s the oldest fixture in the history of international rugby and we play for a famous trophy, so it is a stand-alone game amongst a fantastic tournament.

“The games have been competitive the last four years, so that’s a positive for the fixture.

“We believe it will be a really competitive game, but it’s a new game. We can’t reference back to 2018 or last year – we’ve got to play the game in front of us and we must deliver in all areas.

“We know England will test us in the forwards. They’ll test us with their attacking game and their defence, and we have to be at our best to win those moments but also win the game.

“You have to play close to your best rugby to beat a team with England’s quality. You have to front up at set-piece and physically – that’s a traditional strength of England.

“Our strengths are, we believe, a game of movement, a game of speed. We did that in 2018 in that first half and at times last year in the first half even though it was in wet conditions, but also you’ve got to defend well.

“In 2018 England had a lot of the ball in the second half, and again last year England had a lot of ball, so all aspects of your game have to be in place.

“For us, we have to be able to get our game out. It’s not just a case of taking on a top side and stopping their strengths. No, we have to put our game out on the field, show our players’ strengths, show what we believe are our strengths as a team, and we did that at times last year and especially in 2018.”

Scotland finished fourth in last year’s Six Nations with 15 points from five games, five behind champions Wales but five ahead of second-bottom England.

Their last successful defence of the Calcutta Cup was in 2019, a 38-38 draw at Twickenham sufficing to keep it their trophy cabinet for another 12 months following their 25-13 victory against England at Murrayfield the year before.

Prior to that, they’d not kept hold of it for two years running since 1983 and 1984.

Hogg is one of three Borderers in the Scottish squad alongside fellow ex-Greens Darcy Graham and Rory Sutherland.

Exeter Chiefs full-back Hogg is now on 88 caps, with Edinburgh winger Graham, 24, on 22 and Worcester Warriors loosehead prop Sutherland, 29, on 16.

They’re joined by ex-Melrose and Southern Knights flanker Rory Darge and two other players with Borders links – Cameron Redpath, son of ex-Scotland captain and Melrose scrum-half Bryan Redpath, and former Melrose youth player Rufus McLean, returning after making his international bow during the Scots’ autumn tests.

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