Nathan Hughes was recalled by England coach Eddie Jones on Thursday in the only change to the Six Nations champions’ starting side for this weekend’s Calcutta Cup clash away to Scotland. The Wasps No 8, who has been out of Test action since suffering a knee injury while on club duty in December, goes straight into the back row in place of the sidelined Sam Simmonds.
“Nathan Hughes has worked hard on his fitness. I’ve never seen him in better physical condition, so we are looking forward to him playing,” said Jones. Simmonds came off at half-time with a shoulder injury during England’s 12-6 win over Wales last time out and could now miss the remainder of the Championship. Billy Vunipola is England’s first-choice No 8 but the Saracens star is currently out of action with a broken arm.
Fiji-born Hughes, however, is the nearest equivalent given he too is a powerful ball-carrier compared to the lighter and more nimble Simmonds. “Nathan has a key role in defense and in us gaining momentum in attack,” Jones said. Jonathan Joseph has retained his place at outside center in the face of competition from Ben Te’o, who started in England’s tournament-opening 46-15 win away to Italy in Rome on February 4.
Jones has also made one change to his bench, with experienced prop Joe Marler replacing Alec Hepburn after completing a six-week ban for a dangerous clear-out. But there is no place in the matchday 23 for James Haskell even though the veteran back-row is also now available after serving a suspension. England against Scotland is rugby union’s oldest international fixture, the border rivals having first met back in 1871.
Two England players will be celebrating personal landmarks at Murrayfield on Saturday. Dylan Hartley, the Red Rose captain and hooker will be winning his 92nd England cap surpassing World Cup-winner Jonny Wilkinson’s tally of 91 and leaving him second on the all-time national list behind Jason Leonard’s tally of 114. This weekend’s match in Edinburgh will also mark lock Joe Launchbury’s 50th England appearance.
“For any player to play 50 caps for their country is a wonderful achievement. Joe has worked really hard to improve and is such an important player for us,” Jones said. England are bidding for an unprecedented third successive outright Six Nations title and wins in their opening two matches mean they are still on course for a Grand Slam. But they will be up against a Scotland side who come into this game on the back of a 32-26 win at home to France.
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend named an unchanged XV on Wednesday and Jones said: “We will need to be very tough and relentless in our defense to keep the pressure on this Scottish team.” The Australian, who has won 24 of his 25 Tests in charge of England, added: “They are renowned for their attack so we will need to put pressure on them, create opportunities through our defense for our attack, and convert those opportunities to points.”
England team to play Scotland in a Six Nations international at Murrayfield on Saturday (1645 GMT kick-off):
Mike Brown, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Owen Farrell, Jonny May; George Ford, Danny Care; Nathan Hughes, Chris Robshaw, Courtney Lawes; Maro Itoje, Joe Launchbury; Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley (capt), Mako Vunipola
Replacements: Jamie George, Joe Marler, Harry Williams, George Kruis, Sam Underhill, Richard Wigglesworth, Ben Te’o, Jack Nowell