England have lost five of their last seven away matches in the Six Nations, including 25-13 to Scotland on their most recent visit to Edinburgh two years ago, when back-rower Ryan Wilson roughed up visiting stand-off George Ford in the players’ tunnel pre-match and Owen Farrell ran to his team-mate’s aid. Jones was also jostled by Scots on his post-match train journey to Manchester.
“It is more than a rugby game for Scotland,” said Jones yesterday, as he moved his squad back into their customary Surrey base after time spent in Portugal and then Paris for last Sunday’s 25-17 loss to France.
“They’re a niggly side, aren’t they. There was the dressing-room scene two years ago when they tried to goad a couple of players, and they were successful. Historically they’ve done that through the ages. That’s the way they stay in the game and they’re good at it.
“Composure is always important in rugby, but probably more so at Murrayfield. Our preparation this week is about making sure we have the right focus, the right attention and doing our jobs.”
England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie promised any Scottish intimidation on the field would be met head on by England. The Exeter hooker initiated a push-and-shove brawl involving a dozen players in Paris when he landed on top of French try-scorer Charles Ollivon. “If it is on the field and one of your mates is getting cuddled, as I call it, then the boys will stick up for him,” Cowan-Dickie said. “In the tunnel I don’t think there is any need. I just think it’s a bit stupid.”
But Cowan-Dickie said he had spared any baiting on his club’s social media group aimed at Stuart Hogg, his Exeter team-mate and the Scotland captain who squandered a certain try against Ireland last Saturday. “I think we actually felt sorry for him,” said Cowan-Dickie. “It’s bad enough dropping the ball over the line – but in an international game, you know...”
Jones is concerned at England’s win rate of just under 50 per cent at Murrayfield, and in his recent autobiography, he praised his Scottish counterpart.
“Gregor Townsend… scares me,” Jones wrote. “He is a seriously bright bloke. I’ve presented papers alongside him at a few conferences and I’m always impressed with his thinking. Scotland need to back him and I know that, if they do, he will deliver.”
Yesterday, Jones lauded Townsend again, while smilingly warning the classy former stand-off might fancy some dirty tricks of his own.
“I’ve been to Murrayfield [with Australia] when they have closed the field down,” Jones recalled. “It was my ex-Australian mate Matt Williams [then coach of Scotland]. We went there on the captain’s run on Friday and the field was 70 metres wide. Then we go there on Saturday and it is 60 metres wide.
“Gregor probably wants it 80 metres wide. He wants to play from side to side and he wants to play with width. So we’d better check the markings on Saturday. But I think it’s courageous how he wants to play the game.
“He’s really tried to create a game for Scotland with their resources – because they’ve obviously got limited resources – which keeps them at the top level of the game and I think he’s done a good job. He would have been disappointed with the World Cup but we’ve all forgotten about that now and we’re into the Six Nations.”