"No Doubt He’ll Leave a Mark on Somebody" - Kevin Sinfield Excited For George Martin's England Return Ahead of Scotland Six Nations Battle - Ruck

“No Doubt He’ll Leave a Mark on Somebody” – Kevin Sinfield Excited For George Martin’s England Return Ahead of Scotland Six Nations Battle

The next chapter in rugby’s oldest rivalry will be written this weekend, as Scotland host England in round three of the 2024 Six Nations. The 152-year history brings an added edge of national pride to each fixture, and England defence coach Kevin Sinfield expects plenty of physical fireworks when the two sides clash at Murrayfield this Saturday.

Sinfield believes that physical and mental toughness will decide this match, and expects to see an added intensity to each carry, tackle, scrum and clear out. The defence coach relishes the physical battle, and has been prepping his men for a brutal afternoon up in the Scottish capital.

Kevin Sinfield, Skills Coach of England Rugby gives instructions to George Ford of England during the Six Nations Match between England and Wales at Twickenham, London on 10 February 2024 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“There’s certainly going to be some niggle. When you’ve got two angry, nasty forward packs wanting to go at each other, there’ll be some niggle. It’s a Test match, there’s a lot at stake, as you point out we haven’t won against them for a number of years, no doubt there’ll be some niggle, there’ll be some bits thrown at us over the next couple of days that we haven’t planned for or we haven’t quite expected.

“But that’s the nature of being in top-level sport, and understanding and watching the team evolve and grow and make the best of some of the circumstances we are faced with. I’m in no doubt there’ll be some niggle and there will be some bits thrown at us in the next couple of days that we haven’t planned for or we haven’t quite expected – but that’s the nature of being in top-level sport. No doubt there will be some niggle.”

Freddie Steward of England leaps the tackle from Sione Tuipulotu of Scotland during the Six Nations Championship, Calcutta Cup match between England and Scotland at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on February 4th 2023. – PHOTO: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“There are two good teams coming together at the weekend who know a bit about each other and have done for some time. We are very respectful. We expect some niggle, but I quite like the Scots. With the work I’ve done with Doddie, the Scots have been pretty good to me and I’m looking forward to going to Murrayfield and getting an experience that I’ve not had before, in that cauldron. I’m very proud to be representing my country too.”

A pivotal figure in Sinfield’s game plan could well be George Martin, as the Leicester Tigers forward gets set for his return from injury. Martin has been out of the England fold with a minor knee issue, with expectation building after his comeback to the training squad. Sinfield called back to Martin’s monstrous hit on Franco Mostert at the 2023 Rugby World Cup, to highlight his outstanding defensive qualities.

George Martin of England (Leicester Tigers) skips the tackle of Zach Mercer of England (Montpellier HŽrault Rugby) during the an England Rugby Training session at the Brighton College, Sussex on the 19th June 2023 – PHOTO: Micah Crook/PPAUK

“Big. Physical. Aggressive. Great ball carrier, and he’s one of our better defenders. I’ve worked with him for a number of years now. You guys saw first hand in the (Rugby World Cup) semi-final last year when he really stood out on the international stage against some of the biggest, nastiest, aggressive forwards in the world he was in and amongst it. It was great to have him back available.

“Whether he’s viewed as a second row or at six there’s some real quality there for us. Like our centre partnership and selection it means Steve has a couple of headaches which is what we want our head coach to have.”

Leicester Tigers player George Martin is tackled by Bath player Josh McNally during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Match between Leicester Tigers and Bath Rugby on the second weekend of the Return to Rugby campaign as rugby continues after COVID 19 lockdown at Welford Road on 22 Aug. Photo: Steve Bond/PPAUK/Gallagher

“Forwards win games don’t they? I know we’re blessed with the 9s and 10s we’ve got but ultimately the physicality is provided by those guys. We’ve spent a bit of time talking about George here but there are a number of others in that pack who have really turned up for us recently have been doing so for their clubs for some time.

“We’re pretty happy with what we’ve got and understand we’ll be massively challenged at the weekend. We understand the enormity and the history. We’re aware of that. We understand we’re going into a place that has not been very fruitful for us for a period of time, but it doesn’t change how physical we’d like to be this weekend. George will no doubt be at the forefront of that for us. We look forward to that this weekend. It’s a great challenge. We feel it’ll be a big step up for us.”

Man of the match (?) Leicester Tigers player Leicester Tigers player George Martin after the final whistle of the Gallagher Premiership Match between Wasps and Leicester Tigers at the Ricoh Arena, Coventry on June 12th – PHOTO: Steve Bond/PPAUK

“The great thing is we’ve known he’s been capable of it for a couple of years. I’ve worked closely with him at Leicester and he’s the type of guy that if you ask him to do something he just wants pointing in the right direction. He’s going to have a wonderful career. If selected at the weekend I have no doubt he’ll leave a mark on somebody. He’s already a top player, but he’s going to get better and better.”

Scotland are searching for their fourth consecutive win over England, as the Calcutta Cup has begun to collect dust in the Murrayfield trophy cabinet. Should Gregor Townsend’s men beat England this Saturday, they will equalise their record for consecutive wins over their old enemy. Scotland last won four on the bounce against England, from the 1893 to the 1896 Home Nations Championships, in what was their 20th to 24th meetings throughout history. Now, with the Calcutta Cup on the line for the 131st time, Scotland look to repeat the feat, and Sinfield praised Gregor Townsend on the recent dominance of the fixture.

“I think you have to say Gregor has done a good job. They’ve had continuity – the vast majority of their squad comes from the two teams that play up there. Granted, Finn (Russell) is down at Bath now. I think that continuity helps. You look across the water at Ireland as well, it’s probably helped those two over the years.

“It looks like Gregor has got them playing some good stuff. They are improving and getting better each year. It’ll be a great challenge for us. I’ve never been one to look back and think that what has gone on in the recent past affects what is going to happen, but I think it is important we understand what has gone one. It is a reference point for us.”

Jamie Ritchie of Scotland lifts the Calcutta Cup after beating England in the Six Nations Championship, Calcutta Cup match between England and Scotland at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on February 4th 2023. – PHOTO: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“It’s Test rugby isn’t it? It’s Test rugby and it’s playing at this time of year when it’s wet. And understanding that they’re a good side, we know we can’t have it all our own way, the realisation there’s two teams going out there who want to win badly. The history is important for us to understand but it won’t change, we’re not going up there with any fear, we know how dangerous they are, we know they’re a good team, we know they’ve got some great players, but so have we.”

Sinfield did not hesitate in highlighting the weapons in the impressive Scottish arsenal. The former Leeds Rhino recognised the calibre of this weekend’s opponents, and despite there being no love-loss between the nations, there is certainly respect for Scotland’s on-field capabilities.

Duhan van der Merwe of Scotland slips the tackle from Maro Itoje of England Rugby during the Six Nations Championship, 127th Calcutta Cup match between England and Scotland at Twickenham Stadium, Twickenham, London on January 6 2021. – PHOTO: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

“We’ve got to be understanding and respectful of what the opposition have got. Scotland are a very, very good team. They’ve got some wonderful players. For us to have the arrogance or the naivety to think we can just go up there and not worry about some of their key players would be crazy. We’ve got full respect for the two guys you mentioned (Sione Tuipulotu and Duhan Van der Merwe).

“They’ve got plenty of power and gas and flair. They’ve got a pretty influential guy in at 10 (Finn Russell) and a pretty influential guy at 15 (Blair Kinghorn), we think, coming back in this week. Russell’s an outstanding fly-half. His offloading game, his running game, his kicking game is as good as any out there. When you’ve got him pulling the strings, with Tuipulotu and Van der Merwe outside him, it makes them pretty threatening for us.”

Finn Russell, Captain of Scotland Rugby during the Six Nations Rugby match between Wales and Scotland at Principality Stadium on February 3, 2024 in Cardiff, Wales. Photo: Phil Mingo/PPAUK

After briefly glancing at Finn Russell, Sinfield turned his full scope towards the Scottish talisman. All eyes have been on the self-declared ‘Lionel Messi of rugby’ this week, as the England coaches are utilising some insider knowledge from the West Country. Russell’s Bath back-line teammates Ben Spencer, Ollie Lawrence, Max Ojomoh and Will Muir have all been amongst the recent England camp, and have offered valuable insights on what makes the fly half tick.

“It’s really helpful. The coaching team here have done their homework, and there’s been a lot of homework to do on him, by the way, he’s an outstanding guy, and a wonderful player. We are under no illusions that at some point during the game on Saturday he’ll come up with something that is pretty special.

Finn Russell of Bath Rugby offloads last Mayco Vivas of Gloucester Rugby during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Gloucester Rugby and Bath Rugby at Kingsholm Stadium on 10 November 2023 in Gloucester, England. (Photo by Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“He might come up with a number of them. Can we be good enough to negate some of that? It certainly helps having… we’d be daft not to tap into some of that knowledge and try and understand a bit about how he plays at Bath, and what we think he will take up to Scotland camp. Like I said, they have had that continuity now for a number of years with him in there, and they are a very good team.”

“We’d be daft not to speak to them and ask them questions about him – and we’d be daft not to ask them about his favourite plays. If you think that as a coaching staff we sit there and do nothing all week…

“Felix (Jones) has gone through about 1,000 line-outs that Scotland have run in the last 10 years. So the homework has been done, but are we good enough at the weekend to do the job? That’s why there is interest around this game and around Test rugby.”

Ollie Lawrence is one of Russell’s Recreation Ground teammates that he could well meet at Murrayfield, with the centre poised to make his return to the England set-up. A problematic hip injury sustained in the Champions Cup against Toulouse, curtailed his contention for the opening two rounds of the 2024 Six Nations.

A similar case occurred for Manu Tuilagi, as the Sale Sharks midfielder looks set for his England comeback after a lengthy time out on the shelf with a groin injury. Sinfield would only be delighted to bring the two powerhouse centres to Scotland, to punch some holes through the hosts’ defensive structure.

Manu Tuilagi of England during the Autumn Nations Match between England and Australia at Twickenham on 13 November 2021. Photo: Micah Crook/PPAUK

“I think not having Ollie or Manu available at the start provided an opportunity for a couple of others. It gave us a chance to look at a couple of others; Oscar Beard’s been in the squad as well and I’ve been really impressed with him. What it enables us to do is to have different combinations in that midfield and to play in a number of different ways.

“I think to have that power in Ollie and Manu available is important to us as we look to find the right balance this week. Moving forward, it gives us some options. Any good coaching team will tell you that having good options enables you to play in different ways. With guys that those two available, it certainly puts the defence in two minds because they’re not quite sure who they’re going to be facing and what it’s going to look like.”

Manu Tuilagi of England is tackled by Damian de Allende of South Africa during the Autumn Nations International Series match between England and South Africa at Twickenham, London on 26 November 2022 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“I think when you play like he (Manu Tuilagi) has done for so long, and you are so physical, it is inevitable that at some point in your career you will have a run (of injuries). What you find with guys who are powerful-type guys, one injury tends to lead into another. The broken hand in the World Cup was bad luck, you can’t do much about those, they come about from the nature of the collisions. That was one we didn’t see, his load had been monitored, how he had trained had been monitored and controlled.

“He’d really been pushed and we felt he was in a good spot. I would say this without any doubt, don’t right him off yet. He’s still got some really good years ahead of him, and he’s very much a big part of how we move forward and what we are doing here.”

With the return of Tuilagi and Lawrence, a midfield re-shuffle looks on the cards for the trip to Edinburgh. Henry Slade and Fraser Dingwall led the England centres for the opening two wins against Italy and Wales, with Slade enjoying the similarities between England and Exeter’s midfield set-up. Sinfield explained how this has benefited the Chiefs man’s time in the centres, yet is open to embedding a new midfield system with Felix Jones, for the forthcoming fixture.

Kevin Sinfield, defence coach of England Rugby during the Summer International match between England and Fiji at Twickenham Stadium on August 26, 2023 in London, England. ( Photo by Phil Mingo/PPAUK )

“I think Felix has coached it really well and done a good job, so other players that have worked in that system now for a couple of games, and done four weeks work, plus it’s very similar to Exeter’s system. 

“So Sladey (Henry Slade) and Manny (Feyi-Waboso) have been very influential in sharing some of that knowledge with the players. But it’s time on the field, time on the field will ensure we keep moving forward and keep improving. 

Henry Slade of England during the Six Nations Match between England and Wales at Twickenham, London on 10 February 2024 (Photo: Tom Sandberg/PPAUK)

“Like I said Felix has done a wonderful job, and the time he’s spent with the players has been really important.  And you’ve got two guys who’ve come in and want to improve and want to learn and want to get better as well. 

“I know Manu’s a little bit more experienced and a little bit older, but he still very much wants to improve and get better. And Ollie’s always been the same in time I’ve worked with him, he wants to improve and be better. 

“So it means that you’re not trying to convince people of where we are going or why we are doing it, although I think Felix has done a really good job of that.  But you’ve got players who are on board and really happy to be here.”