LEWIS Moody played over 70 times for England and yet on not one of these occasions did he experience victory at Murrayfield.
While he describes this failure as the most “galling” part of his career there is something else he admits still fills him with a certain amount of embarrassment.
This confession is altogether more startling. The former flanker’s carefully prepared pre-match psyching-up routine was inevitably ruined by the end of the first verse of O Flower Of Scotland, which Moody admits he could not help humming along to as he stood in line, trying to look menacing in front of the home supporters.
“You’d be stood there stoically staring someone out in the crowd and in your head you’re humming along,” he recalled earlier this week. “But it is a good tune.”
“I can’t believe I just admitted that!” he added, having helped the Scotland football skipper Darren Fletcher launch United for Colitis, a new fund-raising initiative in aid of the patient charity, Crohn’s and Colitis UK. Both suffer from ulcerative colitis, a bowel condition that can prove doubly tricky for professional sportspeople.
Moody had spent the previous 20 or so minutes bravely revealing such personal details as how he once had to leave the pitch during the game to use the toilet facilities after putting a little too much force into a tackle. He also calculated how many times he would have to stop to go to the toilet on his way to training when in the grip of the chronic illness (as many as ten or 11 times in a 40-minute journey, he revealed, a daily trial which was only eased by his drastic decision to move nearer the Leicester Tigers training ground). Yet he found it hard to confess to humming along to the Scottish national anthem.
This is how deeply runs the sense of rivalry between two nations who meet again at Murrayfield this evening. The Edinburgh staging of this fixture evokes plenty of memories for Moody, although few of them are good ones. He played two Six Nations games against Scotland in Edinburgh, losing once – in 2006 – and drawing the other, four years later. He was dropped to the bench for the latter clash, just to hand him a further reason to view Murrayfield with a jaundiced eye. “It’s going to be a challenge,” he said, of today’s clash. “I never beat Scotland in Scotland in an international, which tells a tale in terms of how difficult it is to win at Murrayfield.
“I think there’s something great about the rivalry between England and Scotland. The Scots love beating England in Scotland. Whether you’re going back to Bannockburn, all the passion and everything that’s gone before, the Scottish seem to rile themselves more than for any other game. That’s why it’s so tough.”
For an Englishman, it might even be the toughest of the five away Six Nations venues, Moody contends. “The Millennium, the Stade de France are all tough places, but Scotland, for whatever reason ...” Only once in the last decade have England beaten Scotland in Edinburgh, and that was on their last visit. Even then it was a fairly narrow triumph. A converted try after Charlie Hodgson charged down a Dan Parks kick was the difference in a 13-6 win in England coach Stuart Lancaster’s first match in charge.
“We know that if we play Scotland at Twickenham we will win by a good margin,” added Moody, probably fairly since Scotland have not won in London since 1983. “But at Murrayfield you just know anything can happen. For the Scottish players [being at home] helps them generate an extra passion, an extra level, perhaps because they are regarded by most people as underdogs – and the media create that level [of hype] that really gets them excited by the game. So it will be a great spectacle. The Calcutta Cup is a fixture with so much history.”
Moody believes the maggot-infested and now increasingly muddy Murrayfield pitch is likely to prove more a help than a hindrance to Scotland, while at the same time making the venue seem even more inhospitable for the visitors. “There’s issues with the pitch anyway and the more rain that falls will benefit Scotland,” he said. ‘The slower they can make the game the more it will play into Scotland hands. England are a side hungry for victory and they will be determined to go out and get a win from this game – and a win in some style I think is what they will be looking for.”
England made what Moody describes as “the most horrific start I have seen in Paris” last weekend, and then recovered only to lose to France at the death, 26-24. The World Cup winner believes Lancaster erred when replacing livewire scrum-half Danny Care just after the hour mark. Such details are not the 35-year-old’s concern any longer. However, it can be taken as read that a player known by the nickname ‘Mad Dog’ misses the high emotion aroused by this particular fixture, something he felt even when out walking the streets of Edinburgh on the eve of the 2006 clash.
“My ritual before the night before the game was to go to the cinema with Ben Cohen,” he explained. “On the way to the cinema there was an elderly gentleman waiting to cross the road so we helped him across with his stick and when he got to the other side he stopped and waved his stick at us and said: ‘You lot are going to get battered!’ That opened my eyes up to the passion that the Scots have against England.”
But then Moody accepts that he and Cohen made one tactical error before they had even stepped out on the Murrayfield pitch on that particular trip. “We probably shouldn’t have gone out in our full training kit,” he smiled.