Allan Massie: Maybe, just maybe, it is time for a shock result
THERE are trophies for a lot of international matches now, but the Calcutta Cup remains special, simply because it was the first, dating from 1877. Scotland won that original Calcutta Cup match at Raeburn Place by one drop-goal to nil.
Incidentally, a correspondent tells me that the Scots Kirk in Calcutta and its graveyard, where some of the players of the old Calcutta club may be buried, are both in need of repair and refurbishment, and suggests that some Scottish rugby enthusiast might raise money for the purpose. A worthy cause, even if the Cup was actually presented to the (English) Rugby Union, not the SRU, with the suggestion that English clubs should compete for it. That idea was thought unsuitable, but the venerable trophy has been in English hands more often than not.
This preamble is a means for postponing consideration of tomorrow's game at Twickenham. The reluctance is understandable. It is a hundred years since Scotland first played there. England won that match 13-8. It wasn't until 1926 that we won at Twickenham (17-9) and we have recorded only three victories since: 1938, 1971 and 1983. There have also been five drawn matches there, the most heartbreaking in 1965, when a drop-goal from Melrose's Davie Chisholm was the only score until, in injury time, came Andy Hancock's half-minute, the English wing collecting a loose ball near his own line and running the length of the field to score in the corner.
Several times - 1955, 1959, 1987 - we have gone to Twickenham in search of the Triple Crown, having beaten Wales and Ireland at Murrayfield, only to come away without the then mythical trophy. The 1955 match was especially difficult because the victories over the Welsh and Irish followed that run of 17 successive defeats. Scotland lost 9-6, but the Gala prop Tom Elliot went to his grave convinced that he had scored a try under the posts, which, in these pre-video days, the referee disallowed.
Six Nations coverage in full
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• Scotland must tick all boxes to upset resurgent England
• Alastair Kellock: We respect this England side. We don't fear them
• Martin Johnson tells England to expect the unexpected
• Allan Massie: Maybe, just maybe, it is time for a shock result
• Predictions for the Calcutta Cup showdown
• 'We need to get a lot right to win, but we can do it' insists Chris Paterson
• Laid-back Richie Gray has confidence of youth
• How they line up at Twickenham
• Club team blow 17-point lead as Irish claim spoils in thriller
• Neil Jenkins hails Irish 'legend' Ronan O'Gara
• Six Nations interview: Chris Rea
• Elliot Daly does damage as England U20s notch record win against Scotland
• Italy looking to exploit their French connection
Any impartial pundit must give Scotland next to no chance of improving our dismal Twickenham record tomorrow. It has been dreadful as well as dismal this century. Scores to make one shudder - 43-3, 40-9, 43-22, 42-20, 26-12. It gets worse. In these five matches, England have scored 24 tries, Scotland five. Nor is there anything encouraging about results this Six Nations: England, played three, won three; Scotland, played three, lost three. England's right wing, Chris Ashton, has scored six tries, leaping like a salmon heading for the spawning-grounds. That is twice as many as the Scotland team have managed in their three games. England are beginning to believe they have their best side since they won the World Cup in 2003. Our hope that wins over Ireland, Argentina, South Africa and Samoa meant that there was light at the end of a long dark tunnel is beginning to wither.Yet, somehow, in defiance of all evidence, hope always revives as the hour of the kick-off approaches. Forget the probability that, on recent form, a composite Scotland-England XV would include precious few Scots - Richie Gray, Kelly Brown, anyone else? Forget form. Forget history. Cling instead to the hunch that Andy Robinson's team is better than it has seemed to be these last weeks and Martin Johnson's perhaps not quite as good as its results indicate.
The mantra coming from the Scottish camp is "cut out mistakes". A worthy ambition which is, however, easier to articulate than put into practice. In all three games we have conceded soft tries and missed opportunities to score ourselves. We did play well in patches against France and Ireland, but it is not enough to have good passages of play if, as against Ireland, you don't score while you are on top, and then leak tries in these periods when the opposition has the upper hand. There are such periods in all matches. So tightening up the defence is the first imperative. We have been able to do that against England at Murrayfield, where, remarkably, neither side has scored a try in the last three encounters.
The second imperative is not to kick away hard-won possession, and certainly not to kick loosely. The English back three love the chance to run the ball back and do so very dangerously. Third, we must get the edge in the forward battle if we are to have any chance of winning. It is only by imposing extreme pressure on England that we can force mistakes. If they win enough good ball going forward, their backs are capable of scoring tries against better teams than Scotland. So denying them good ball from an advancing platform is essential.
Finally, we need to make the right decisions at crucial moments. Arguably, calling two short line-outs, one in defence, the other in attack, and mucking them both up, cost us the match against Ireland. The first led to Ireland's second try; the second lost a very good attacking opportunity. We can't afford a repetition of such errors. England are too sharp in attack and too solid in defence - remember that France failed to cross their line at Twickenham two weeks ago.
The odds are heavily in England's favour: evens, bookies might have it, on England winning by 20 points or more. But the Six Nations usually produces one big upset and there hasn't yet been one this tournament. Maybe, just maybe, tomorrow's the day.
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This article was first published in Scotland On Sunday, 27 February, 2011
This article was first published in The Scotsman, 26 February, 2011
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