Calder believes in Calcutta Cup win despite World Cup disappointment

Ex-Lions skipper sees positives for Scotland, writes David Ferguson

FINLAY Calder can recall many great performances from Scotland teams with which he was involved and he is renowned as one of the game’s straight-talkers off the field. So, when he forecast a Calcutta Cup victory it drew real interest.

Now 54, the former Scotland and British and Irish Lions captain joined forces with a host of former Scotland and England internationalists to support the new Glengoyne Auld Enemy Dinner in association with The Scotsman, which will be held on the eve of the Calcutta Cup each year in Edinburgh and London, to raise money for the Help for Heroes and Bill McLaren Foundation charities.

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Calder believes Scotland’s early World Cup exit should no longer be a cause for disappointment but that the lessons learned from defeats to Argentina and England can help launch the 2012 RBS Six Nations Championship with victory over the Auld Enemy.

“Scotland did not qualify for the quarter-finals in the World Cup, but they actually played quite well,” stated Calder. “And apart from Nathan [Hines] everybody else is still there so I think there is a feel about the squad now that they are at the right age, have matured together, are beginning to learn how to win.

“If you went back to the 2003 tournament, when we got through after scrapping for a last-minute try from Tom Smith, and 2007, when it was really close against Italy, they weren’t exactly glorious, so it [failure to reach the quarter-finals] was maybe coming. We went away in eighth place and came back in ninth [in IRB rankings], so it wasn’t a hanging offence, and we had a tough group.

“Yes, we should have qualified but we only lost by a couple of points and, while they’ll not win the Grand Slam, they will go in reasonably confident.

“I love watching [Alasdair] Strokosch for a start and I’d build my pack around him. I said that to Andy [Robinson]. I saw him when Gloucester played Northampton and he was the best player on the park. He’s also a man’s man, a tough guy, street-fighter, so build your pack around him, and then you have Richie Gray, who is an amazing talent. Joe Ansbro is a lovely player and I like the look of the lad playing ten for Edinburgh, Harry Leonard, as well. He looks good. He maybe made a few mistakes but he’s about 12 [19] isn’t he?”

One area in which Calder was critical of the Scotland coaches at the World Cup was the changing of players around the hour mark. He said: “I couldn’t understand them taking off key players, guys playing the best rugby of their lives. Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford and Euan Murray I’d have on for the full monty. Forget the 60 minutes stuff, keep your best players on. As soon as you start to chop and change you lose your rhythm.

“What I’m saying is that we’ve got a platform there for doing something and, let’s be honest, if we beat England 3-0 I’d be delighted. We can beat England in that first game because I feel they’re in a bit of turmoil. We’re more settled and, if we stay injury-free – we don’t have many spare parts – we have a good chance to start the tournament well.”

Asked about the new dinner, with the inaugural event to be held in Edinburgh on Friday 3 February next year Calder revealed a passion for the beneficiary charities, particularly Help for Heroes which supports injured forces personnel.

Calder said: “They are great charities. Two years ago I went to Twickenham to watch Wasps versus Bath, a St George’s Day fixture for Help for Heroes, and it was an amazing day. There were 100 returning soldiers from Afghanistan who took the applause from the crowd. There were 65,000 people there, all singing Land of Hope and Glory, and I experienced a lot in my career, but this was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. Four soldiers abseiled down from the stands and the whole place was on its feet.

“Two young soldiers sat beside us and we were chatting away, and one lad said ‘we never expected this reception; in fact we’re humbled by it’. I said ‘you’re humbled? How do you think we feel?’

“What these guys are doing for us as citizens is amazing. So when the Help for Heroes name was attached to this it became a bit of no-brainer. Th ere will be a packed audience – there is a sort of old boys network among players so they’ll be there because we’ll just say ‘you’ll be there’ and there will be a big turnout for a great rugby night.

“If we can do our bit as a rugby community in Scotland for Help for Heroes, as well as the Bill McLaren Foundation, and it comes anywhere near what happened at Twickenham it will be a job well done.”

More information is available at: www.theauldenemy.co.uk.