Scotland have been told to keep a close eye on Marcus Smith if they want to make a winning start in the Six Nations. England’s fly-half impressed on last summer’s British & Irish Lions tour and within the Scotland camp there is a belief that he poses the biggest threat to their Calcutta Cup prospects.
Smith has not played in the Six Nations before but his autumn form for England and match-turning performances for Harlequins have made him a key figure in the view of Scotland’s defence coach, Steve Tandy. “He is an outstanding individual,” said Tandy, also a member of the Lions coaching staff. “He has an outstanding kicking game, makes really good decisions, hits the line and opens the game up a little bit more. There is an unpredictability about him as well so we know we are going to have to be on the money defensively.”
The Scotland head coach, Gregor Townsend, and Tandy returned from South Africa last year full of respect for Smith’s ability to extract the best from those around him. “On the Lions trip you could see exactly what he is about: the talent he has, the speed, how he can play the game,” said Tandy. “His instinct will take over. Obviously he will play in the England structure but we have to put in a positive performance in defence.”
The Scotland management are also looking for improved discipline with two red cards having damaged their chances last year. “We were pretty unfortunate with the red cards … I don’t think there’s a lot the boys could have done,” said Tandy. “We’ve got to be making sure we don’t give the referee opportunities to give penalties. We don’t want to give a team like England easy field position. We are very conscious of how smart we have to be around the breakdown area.”
Prop Jamie Bhatti has withdrawn from the Scotland squad due to a hand injury and has been replaced by Allan Dell. Bath’s Josh Bayliss is also recovering from concussion while Sean Maitland has returned to Saracens. Ireland’s Iain Henderson, rated doubtful last week with an ankle problem, is due to return to full training on Tuesday and is set to be available for Saturday’s game against Wales in Dublin.