Ben Youngs has warned Scotland of the “wave of white shirts” ready to engulf them in Saturday’s historic Calcutta Cup clash.
England launch their Guinness Six Nations title defence with a Twickenham showdown steeped in tradition as the oldest rivalry in international rugby celebrates its 150th anniversary.
The occasion’s historical context has been embraced by Eddie Jones’ men, who are ready to display a unified sense of purpose in suffocating Scotland – and most importantly their fly-half magician Finn Russell.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) February 4, 2021
While England’s attack has rarely ignited over the past year, their ferocious defence has been a pillar of strength.
“When we are in sync and we have that synergy and are going after teams, it’s a wave of white shirts,” said Leicester scrum-half Youngs.
“Whenever a bloke has the ball he gets surrounded and it’s great to be a part of that. You want to play your role. It’s a big strength of ours and it gives us a huge amount of energy.
“When the pack is going forward and rumbling, when our defence is where it needs to be, we are a very tough team to break down and get on the front foot against.”
Youngs, along with back-up scrum-halves Dan Robson and Harry Randall, knows the difficulties in finding a way through.
“I’m up against it a lot in training. Myself, Dan, Harry – we like to run with the ball, like to take people on, and at times you feel you are in a straitjacket,” he said.
“You try to make things happen. To get better in defence you have to force it in training, to go into those areas, to challenge those guys, and you get gobbled up at times.”
England’s biggest challenge in the 139th meeting between the teams will be to stifle Russell, knowing Scotland’s gifted ringmaster can cut defences to ribbons with a floated pass or short chip.
It was Russell who inspired the Scots’ mesmerising comeback at Twickenham two years ago when a 31-0 deficit was transformed into a 38-31 lead, only for a stoppage-time try by George Ford to secure a dramatic draw.
𝗘𝘅𝗰𝗶𝘁𝗲𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗹𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗹𝘀 = 💯
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) February 4, 2021
“I don’t think I could deal with it coming down to the last play of the game, like it did last time!” Youngs said.
“We massively respect Scotland and the way they play, with Russell in there who is a bag of tricks.
“Two years ago highlights how dangerous Scotland can be if you sit back and give Finn time on the ball and give guys like Stuart Hogg time and space.
“When you’re previewing Scotland you’re going to mention Finn – look at his short kicking game, long kicking game, his distribution. He takes the line on a lot, he’s a tidy player and we absolutely respect him.
“We’ve done our homework on him. Hopefully that is enough to try and keep him restrained a little bit, but the guy can make things happen.”
While the roller-coaster events of 2019 have left their mark, Youngs refuses to dwell on a staggering collapse that became an important moment in the development of Jones’ England.
“A lot has happened since then – we’ve played a lot of big games and picked up a lot of knowledge since the World Cup,” Youngs said.
“But it does sharpen the mind knowing the threat that they pose if you allow them to dictate their style.”