Importance of Calcutta Cup has grown on skipper Chris Cusiter
SCOTLAND captain Chris Cusiter's most vivid memory of the Calcutta Cup is of David Sole striding out at Murrayfield to lead his team into battle in 1990, even though the then seven-year-old had to hear it second-hand.
Now 27, Cusiter will captain Scotland into the most eagerly-anticipated fixture in the game north of the border, 20 years on from that memorable moment that preceded the winning of Scotland's last Grand Slam. With Scotland having lost all three games in this RBS Six Nations so far and England having lost to Ireland last time out there are no Grand Slams on offer this weekend, but Cusiter is making no effort to play down the theatre around the 127th Calcutta Cup match and the team's return to their home ground.
"It's a big advantage for us playing at Murrayfield," he said. "We only have two home games in this championship and we lost the first one against France, so it's good to be back here and all the boys really enjoy playing here, particularly against England when there is a great atmosphere.
"It's the one game where all the guys are inundated with ticket requests; everyone wants to come to this game, everyone's talking about it; it's a huge game and it's really exciting as a player to have a chance to play in a game like this.
"Having grown up in Aberdeen I didn't get to many Scotland games, and I wasn't as interested as a kid as my brother (Calum] was. That 1990 game is my earliest memory and even though I wasn't there I remember vividly my dad coming back from the game and talking about it; about the team coming out on to the pitch and David Sole walking, that kind of thing."
Cusiter is a thinker and has no trouble with enjoying the good memories of past games and the atmosphere around them, and divorcing himself from that now as a player with a very clear mission this weekend. "We have to be able to separate what's written in the media and the hype around the game. It is great because the interest this game generates is huge and creates a fantastic atmosphere, but as players we're not involved in any of that. Our focus is on performance and winning for Scotland, and we focus on what we need to do, what their threats are, what they're going to come at us with.
"I understand all the history and the patriotism, but that's very much a side issue for us because for us it's about a game of rugby, 15 v 15. So we won't change our attitude or approach to the game because it's England, but there is an excitement about playing England.
"I think that comes from the fact that they are such a huge rugby-playing nation and a very good side, with a lot of household names. And the players are aware of the atmosphere this game generates at Murrayfeld and you'd have to be crazy not to get excited by that.
"But, that's tempered by the fact that it's such a big challenge and we're aware of that too, despite all the criticism that they (England] have come in for with their style of game. I don't believe for an instant that they are a weak team or don't go out and play a lot of rugby.
"With some of the attacking threats they have we will really have to be on our guard defensively. Guys like Ugo Monye and Mathew Tait are really fast, powerful men and can certainly cause us difficulties if we don't get our defence right.
"I have played against a lot of English teams and against England a few times, and it is always a massive physical challenge, and to be in the game you have to front up physically. That's an absolute necessity, whether it's down at Twickenham or at Murrayfield it's always a huge physical game.
"But, after that, it's the same as any other in that if you put them under pressure and consistently perform the basics we'll have a chance; if we don't we'll lose. That's been the theme of this championship – games turn on little details and one mistake here or there will turn a game, so we have to be spot-on for 80 minutes and that will give us a chance. If we're not, forget it – that's been my message to the players this week."
As stark and simple as that message is it does not under-play the ambition and belief that Cusiter feels lies within his side. Defeats to France, Wales and Italy have all ensured disappointment has outweighed pleasure so far, but that does not mean there have not been chinks of light; signs of improved rugby and better play, the bricks upon which Andy Robinson believes he can build.
The skipper acknowledged that only wins provided a convincing argument of progress in the invariably black-and-white world of international sport, but he was resolute in stating: "The players absolutely buy into the game we're trying to play and haven't lost faith or confidence from what has happened in the last few weeks.
"The players and myself feel that we are playing good rugby and that we've been very, very close to winning two of the three games. We haven't and that's been a regret for us, but in terms of what we're creating and the way we're trying to play we're confident with that and confident we will get there.
"But getting over the line first and getting that win is a big step to take so we have to perform better this weekend than we have in the previous games. The reality of international rugby is that if you don't play well you don't win."
Cusiter smiled and shook his head at a query as to whether the few words he does use pre-match, or the style of their delivery, might have to be tempered with an Englishman in the home dressing room, in the shape of head coach and former England flanker Andy Robinson.
Pulling the might of a capacity Murrayfield crowd in behind the home team from the first whistle was more important he said. Deeds rather than words – that is Cusiter's style.
"Andy can look after himself," he said, laughing. "I don't think there's any thought of holding anything back because of Andy.
"First and foremost there is a massive respect for England despite what's said in the dressing room before the match or in training during the week, but people use whatever motivation they have to get into a game."
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Thursday 20 June 2013
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