England v Scotland: Time to cure travel sickness if we are to become a top team, admits Hamish Watson
These chronic cases of travel sickness have done nothing to aid our Championship chances and are the chief reasons why Scotland have never finished higher than third since the tournament’s expansion in 2000.
It’s no coincidence that our last title win came in 1999, the same season the French were defeated at the Stade de France in the final year of the old Five Nations.
To win the Championship you need to win on the road and, the way the fixtures are configured, 2021 is one of those years in which Scotland must face England and France away. The pair lead the betting for this year’s title but there are a couple of reasons for Scottish optimism.
Firstly, Gregor Townsend’s side achieved a landmark victory over Wales in last season’s Six Nations when they won 14-10 in Llanelli in October. It was the Scots’ first victory in the Principality for 18 years and was achieved with a gritty performance in difficult circumstances when the visitors lost not one but two stand-offs to injury. It was a watershed moment for this team, proving that they could win away against one of the Six Nations big guns.
The second cause for hope was the performance at Twickenham two years ago. Or the second-half performance, to be more accurate. Having trailed 31-0 after half an hour, the Scots picked themselves up to lead 38-31 in the final seconds only to be sucker-punched by George Ford’s late try and equalising conversion.
The draw means they will return to the venue this weekend with a degree of confidence - but only a degree because memories of 2017’s 61-21 shellacking also remain fresh, as Hamish Watson pointed out.
“It’s good having that  game and knowing how well we performed in the second half and knowing that we can do that against a team like England away from home,” said the Scotland flanker.
“It’s definitely a confidence booster but then again I was involved in the 2017 game as well so we know we have to be on it and, compared to both of those games, we are going to have to start well.”
An early yellow card for hooker Fraser Brown put Scotland on the back foot four years ago and the visitors never really recovered, shipping seven tries.
“In any international game you’ve got to come with that extra bit of focus, whether that’s controlling the first 20 minutes of the game and maybe not playing as loosely,” reasoned Watson.
“It’s a bit to do with mindset - we’ve got to hit the ground running. When we’ve gone to Twickenham the last two times we’ve definitely not done that. In 2017 it was a yellow card that didn’t help but in 2019 there was no excuse, it was just a slow start and we put ourselves in a dreadful position. Then it becomes really hard to overturn that deficit. I think it’s down to control, to be honest. You’ve got to go down there and try to control the first 20 minutes of the game.”
Watson has been a mainstay of the side in each of the last four Six Nations, with Scotland winning three of their five matches in three of those campaigns. It’s a creditable record but the Edinburgh man knows they need to start smashing their away-day hoodoos if they are going to be title challengers.
“We’ve got three home games this year and two away games,” he said. “I think we’ve seen in the last few years, and not just with Scotland, that teams struggle to get away wins.
“We obviously got one in Wales in the Six Nations game in the autumn but we know that if we want to progress from three wins you’re going to have to pick up an away win, which is historically quite a hard thing to do in the Six Nations.
“We’ve got two of the in-form teams in rugby, with France and England away, so it’s a great opportunity to try to build on those three wins which we’ve done in three of the last campaigns out of four. To become one of the top teams in the world you’ve got to start winning your away games, and that’s the challenge for us.
“I think that was a massive win for us away in Wales. It was at Parc y Scarlets which was slightly different for the Welsh boys but, nevertheless, it was a great win in a country where we haven’t won for a long time, and I think that does give us a slight extra boost, but we now need to back that up. It is all about backing up one good performance with another in international rugby.”
Watson expects the back-row battle to be key at Twickenham. England will be without the injured Sam Underhill but the Scotland flanker does not think the home side will be significantly diminished.
“They’ve obviously got a great back-row,” said Watson. “Teams have been targeting that area more, because it can be a massive swinging point in the game, whether it is getting penalties, turnovers or quick ball you can attack off.
“They [England] have definitely changed their style from 2018. They normally play two sevens, although Underhill is obviously injured. [Tom] Curry is there or thereabouts as a six or seven, so I think Eddie Jones definitely likes that they’ve normally got two guys who are very good over the ball. It will be a good battle, I’d imagine.”
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