Twickenham will be awash with nods to the distant past on Saturday, when England hosts Scotland 150 years after their first meeting in what is the oldest international rugby fixture of them all.
A special 150th banner will run along the stadium’s east lower tier, and a design will be painted on the field. England will give a commemorative shield to Scotland before kickoff, while all of Scotland’s players will have the corresponding name from the 1871 team embroidered onto their jerseys.
With a couple of eye-catching selections at inside center for their opening match in the Six Nations, the rugby foes are looking to the future, too.
In the white of England will be Ollie Lawrence, a 21-year-old battering ram who will split the long-time midfield axis of Owen Farrell and George Ford in making his debut in the tournament. It will be the fourth cap of what will surely be a long international career for a player who has been likened to Manu Tuilagi — but arguably with better footwork and footballing skills.
Facing him in the dark blue of Scotland will be a fellow 21-year-old Cameron Redpath, who plays in England for Bath and has featured in England training squads under coach Eddie Jones. Indeed, he played for England Under-20s alongside Lawrence in midfield, in a 45-7 win over Scotland just two years ago and would have toured South Africa with the senior squad in 2018 had he not picked up an injury.
Redpath, whose father, Bryan, was captain of Scotland and had 60 caps, only recently opted to play for the Scots ahead of England. He could also have qualified for the country of his birth, France.
“He was wanted by the English coaches as well,” said Scotland coach Gregor Townsend, who played alongside Bryan Redpath for the national team, “but I have been chatting to him for a wee while now.
“We offered him the chance to be in our squad in the autumn but he felt it wasn’t the right time. He’s a bright, mature lad and he’s made up his own mind. I imagine it has been a tough decision for him over the weeks and months.”
Running out on an historic day at Twickenham, then, will likely be a strange feeling for Redpath, who is regarded as one of the most talented young rugby players in Europe.
Scotland’s backline has the dash and brio to really concern England — especially with Finn Russell, potentially the next Lions flyhalf, back after missing the Autumn Nations Cup with a shoulder injury — as the visitors head south seeking a first win at Twickenham since 1983.
England is, though, the defending champion and backed that up by winning the Autumn Nations Cup. Jones’ pragmatic, no-nonsense approach since the 2019 World Cup has been well-documented and is getting results, while there looks to be a nice balance to the Farrell-Lawrence-Henry Slade combination at 10-12-13.
Yet, Farrell is being asked to run the game having not played since the win over France in the Autumn Nations Cup final on Dec. 6, with his club, Saracens, not able to play domestic games in England’s second tier because of coronavirus restrictions.
Jones is also having to cope with a string of absences, with props Mako Vunipola, Joe Marler and Kyle Sinckler all unavailable for various reasons, and flanker Sam Underhill, lock Joe Launchbury and Tuilagi out injured.
Mark Wilson replaced Underhill at blindside, while Ellis Genge and Will Stuart will start as the props. Jonny Hill was preferred to Courtney Lawes as Maro Itoje’s partner in the second row.
To accommodate Lawrence, Ford was relegated to the bench for the first time since the 2019 Rugby World Cup. The flyhalf missed the start of the Autumn Nations Cup because of an Achilles injury but, after regaining his fitness, was picked at No. 10 for the victories over Wales and then France in the final.
England: Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Ollie Lawrence, Jonny May, Owen Farrell (captain), Ben Youngs; Billy Vunipola, Tom Curry, Mark Wilson, Jonny Hill, Maro Itoje, Will Stuart, Jamie Goerge, Ellis Genge. Reserves: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Beno Obano, Harry Williams, Courtney Lawes, Ben Earl, Dan Robson, George Ford, Max Malins.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (captain), Sean Maitland, Chris Harris, Cameron Redpath, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Matt Fagerson, Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie, Jonny Gray, Scott Cummings, Zander Fagerson, George Turner, Rory Sutherland. Reserves: David Cherry, Oli Kebble, WP Nel, Richie Gray, Gary Graham, Scott Steele, Jaco van der Walt, Huw Jones.