AHEAD of the Calcutta Cup, Scotland are based at the Lensbury Club, an upmarket establishment in leafy Teddington, a suburb on the Thames just to the south east of Twickenham.
They are not the only ones here. Springboks’ coach Heyneke Meyer was checking out the facilities yesterday with one eye on World Cup accommodation and the walls are festooned with signed jerseys and photos, including one of Martin Johnson holding aloft the World Cup. A timely reminder that England expects, which only underlines the size of the challenge facing Scotland.
If spirit and cohesiveness are forged in adversity, then this Scotland team will at least be tightly knit going into today’s Calcutta Cup; as the saying goes, if it wasn’t for bad luck the Scots would have none at all.
On top of losing two tight games against France and Wales, the Scots have rarely had the rub of the green or won one of those 50/50 calls from the match officials; which is simply what happens when you have been bumping along the bottom so long that everyone expects you to lose.
All rational deliberation points to an England win at a ground where Scotland victories can be counted on the fingers of one hand (with one digit to spare). For those who prefer the heart to the head, the omens are no better with Alex Dunbar’s sickening injury on Thursday robbing the Scots of a talismanic back.
At least Vern Cotter can whistle up a very handy replacement. Ahead of the autumn internationals, Matt Scott joked that he bumped into the coach in the Murrayfield corridor and doubted that the Kiwi knew who he was.
He knows now. Scott must have been close to a starting spot in this team even before Dunbar’s accident. The replacement will be expected to offer solidity in defence and provide some go forward in a midfield that will be as packed as the rush-hour tube but he appears up for the challenge.
“I am sure it will be tough for him [Dunbar] to watch knowing that he was meant to be playing in it,” said Scott yesterday.
“It would be a massive get well soon present for him if we can bring home the Calcutta Cup for him.
“We’ve seen this a lot in pro rugby with guys getting long-term injuries. It sounds quite cold-hearted but it is part of the job but it does bring us closer together in the sense we want to do well for him. We don’t need any extra motivation to come down here and play well.
“If you are involved in these games, and I have been lucky enough to be involved in a couple, it is an amazing sporting occasion and need no motivation to get up for it.
“I just want to do my talking on the pitch. It has been a tough few months for me personally, not being selected and things like that.
“I had a great run of starting a lot of games for Scotland and I was very lucky to do that and then you get a bad injury and it takes a while to get back to where I was.
“I was not playing badly but I was not making as many breaks as usual but maybe that was partly down to lack of rugby. You are going to get peaks and troughs. It was great to get 80 minutes for Edinburgh [against Treviso] last week.
“I had not played 80 minutes for a couple of months and I felt good and got a couple of tries, which was great for my confidence, and now I have the opportunity to start this week. I am hoping to do the talking on my pitch because that is my job. I don’t want to talk too much about what I can bring but I want to play well tomorrow.”
Scott was also involved in last season’s Calcutta Cup, which was a low water mark for just about everyone involved, at least in a blue shirt. England won at a canter, one of their easier victories at ground where they have historically been made to sweat blood for every point.
It looked from the body language that the boys in blue couldn’t have cared less. It seems from Scott’s language that they cared too much.
“The England game last year was horrible to look back on and we have watched clips this week,” he said. “I took that defeat really badly. It was probably the worst one of my career.
“I remember the embarrassment of it all and it has been used as motivation this week. There was a lack of structure to our attack, we were all over the place in parts. There was poor execution of kicks, poor decision-making, it just looked really disjointed. Looking back, it was a terrible performance.
“I remember the boys being so fired up for that game and it’s funny how we just completely went to pieces. We didn’t play rugby at all so this weekend it’s about drip-feeding that passion. Last year, we had boys with tears in their eyes in the dressing room before the game.
“It was an emotionally charged affair, but it’s a professional sport and it’s about cool heads. That’s a big focus for us this week, because there’s a fine line and we certainly crossed it in the wrong way last year.”
It isn’t a bad situation for the Scots to find themselves in, written off by almost everyone, including their own coach who dubbed the task “almost impossible” for the cameras. That comment was directed at the English players. Cotter will change his tune when addressing his own.
The fear of humiliation remains a powerful motivator and that will be the reward if Scotland defend as they did against Italy.
If the Scottish big men can achieve anything approaching parity in the battles for ball and territory, then the Scots will fancy that they can give their hosts a bloody nose at the very least. If they fail to do so, the game will be lost by half time and the England scoreboard will be whirring round as if AB de Villiers was at the crease.
“We want to get a win for ourselves and for the nation and where better a place to do it,” argues Scott. “I don’t worry about our history at Twickenham. In fact I think it’s great motivation. It’s a massive opportunity to make history and I use that as motivation. We could write ourselves into the history books tomorrow. What is there to be scared of?”
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS