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Burrell and Hughes to provide spark for England and Scotland in close encounters

21 Aug | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Burrell and Hughes to provide spark for England and Scotland in close encounters

Back lines will hold the key in latest World Cup warm-ups as England and Scotland look to triumph against two sides who always push them close

Italy v Scotland (19:00 GMT)

An experimental Scotland side raised more than a few eyebrows with their performance against Ireland in Dublin last weekend, narrowly missing out 28-22 with a display full of running rugby.

The result was particularly impressive given that they lost by 30 clear points to the same opposition just five months ago.

Yet while continuity in selection and the resulting consistency in performance would appear to be the Scot’s biggest weakness going into the tournament, Vern Cotter has chosen to wring the changes for this weekend’s visit to Rome.

Unlike the rest of the Home Nations his World Cup squad is still very much in its early stages, with eleven new faces being given a start on Saturday.

Flanker John Hardie is handed his first cap despite only having arrived in Britain from New Zealand last month on the basis that his grandmother was born in Scotland.

He is not the only kilted Kiwi in contention, with Hugh Blake also catching the eye in Dublin and Josh Strauss looking to force his way into the squad after qualifying on residency grounds one day after the tournament kicks off.

If the current trend continues, Flower of Scotland may soon need to be followed up with a Celtic haka – but that is a concern for another day.

Also making his debut on Saturday is 22-year-old winger Rory Hughes, who is 10/1 to mark the occasion by scoring the first try.

Form is certainly hard to call between these two.

In their 16 Six Nations meetings since Italy’s inclusion Scotland have edged the head-to-head with nine wins to seven as the two sides have virtually taken it in turns to look after the wooden spoon.

Usually the home side comes out on top, but with Italy missing their inspirational captain in Sergio Parisse and naming three uncapped players themselves, Scotland may just edge it.

It ought to be close, however.

The last two meetings have been decided by a total of four points with eight of the last twelve being decided by less than 10 points.

At 9/2, a Scotland win by six to 10 points looks the best bet.

France v England (20:00 GMT)

If last week’s meeting between these two at Twickenham boiled down to a shoot-out between two second strings, Saturday’s encounter in Paris will be a full-on fight between two first-choice fifteens.

Stuart Lancaster has named 14 changes to the side that ran out 19-14 winners last weekend, with only winger Jonny May retaining his place.

France meanwhile have made 12 switches of their own.

In all honesty it would not be a great surprise if exactly the same took to the field for England in their World Cup opener against Fiji on 19 September, such is the strength of the selection.

That may seem a strange statement to make given the recent hype surrounding Sam Burgess – an ongoing debate that has given another man a point to prove in the Stade de France on Saturday.

Following a superb Six Nations Luther Burrell would have every right to feel rather aggrieved at having to now fight for his place.

Linking back up with his midfield partner in crime during that tournament in Jonathan Joseph, expect him to take centre stage.

With three tries in his first 12 caps, the Northampton man is 16/1 to score the first try and end the argument once and for all.

Also likely to light up the back line is Mike Brown, who, making his first start since suffering a sickening concussion against Italy back in March, is 3/1 to mark his return with a try at any time.

England have won four of their five games against the French since defeat in the quarter-finals at the last World Cup – although it has often been a close-run thing.

The last three meetings between the two in Paris have all been decided by two points, with the average winning margin over the course of the last five games standing at just four and a half.

With this in mind, England are priced at a tempting 4/1 to prevail by between one and five points this time around.

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