Six Nations 2015: Scotland's Alex Dunbar out of England clash and in danger of missing World Cup after damaging knee in training

Influential centre suffers serious horror injury, but England's George Ford still wary of Calcutta Cup opponents

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The Independent Online

This time last week, the smart money was on Brad Barritt of England and Alex Dunbar of Scotland squaring up to each other at inside centre on Calcutta Cup day at Twickenham. Barritt’s chances evaporated when, during a Premiership game in Coventry, he landed heavily on his ankle and limped forlornly from the field. Yet for all his misery, the Saracens man is in a far better place than Dunbar.

The Glasgow midfielder ruptured knee ligaments during today’s final training session at Murrayfield and as a consequence, he could well miss this autumn’s World Cup as well as Saturday’s Six Nations game in London. It is a desperate blow for the Scots, not least because Dunbar has been so influential in transforming their attacking game into something to be admired, rather than laughed out of town.

“Alex just went down on his own after a change of direction,” said Vern Cotter, the new Scotland coach, who must also do without a second Glasgow back in the wing Sean Lamont. “It’s very unfortunate and he’s obviously upset: the doctors are pretty good at getting these injuries sorted, but with a cruciate ligament problem, it will be a fine cut for him in terms of the World Cup.

 

 

 

“But there’s a lot of character in this team and a real desire to do well in this Calcutta Cup game. We’ve lost Alex just before getting on the plane, but people will adapt. I think it will tighten up the group, which is important given the clan-ish nature of this weekend’s match.”

Cotter made five changes to the side that messed things up against Italy in the last round of championship fixtures, thereby raising the prospect of a second Six Nations whitewash in four years. Matt Scott of Edinburgh fills the hole left by Dunbar, while another back based in the Scottish capital, Dougie Fife, comes in for Lamont. The inventive Finn Russell of Glasgow returns from suspension at outside-half and there are starts up front for the much-travelled Saracens lock Jim Hamilton and the Zimbabwean-born No 8 David Denton.

“Jim will bring his physicality and understanding of English rugby to the pack,” Cotter said. “And it’s good to have David back as he provides us with strength both as a ball-carrier and in defence. He’s also a very good line-out forward. He’ll give us some physical density against a big set of opponents.”

England will hardly be discouraged by Dunbar’s absence, but according to their chief playmaker George Ford, recent events at club level have left the favourites just a little wary. The Bath outside-half was on the field when Glasgow tripped the light fantastic in a European Champions Cup game in October and did not have it all his own way in the return fixture at the Recreation Ground shortly after Christmas.

“They took us to the cleaners up there by scoring some brilliant tries,” Ford admitted, “and several members of that back division will be at Twickenham this weekend. I think Russell is a really good player: he attacks the line, he’s a fine kicker and he’s very competitive – someone who adds a dimension to the Scotland game.”

Ford is not alone in assuming that the Scots will stick at least some of their possession in the air: after England’s problems under the high ball in Dublin last time out, it is the obvious way forward. But the Bath man also believes he and his countrymen will respond more positively than they did against Ireland.

“It would have helped if we’d dealt with the Irish kicking game better than we did, but we also lost the breakdown battle as a team, our discipline wasn’t good enough and we gave them field positions that allowed them to do what they wanted,” he said, candidly. “But while we didn’t play  anything like our best rugby, it’s not all bad.

“We were disappointed, naturally, but I don’t sense any anxiety, either amongst individuals or as a group, as a result of what happened. I think that having reviewed the Dublin game pretty well, we have our positivity back.”

 

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