England coach Eddie Jones has questioned Scotland’s ability to handle the “pressure of expectation” in this year’s Six Nations.
Scotland are considered to have their best chance in years to contend for the title after three wins in the competition last year, away and home victories over Australia and a rousing performance in narrow defeat to the world champion All Blacks in November.
At yesterday’s official launch of the newly-sponsored NatWest Six Nations in London, Jones was up to his usual tricks, playing down the chances of back-to-back champions England’s search for three in a row and building up the pretenders to the crown.
“They’re big darlings aren’t they?” said the Aussie when asked if the Scots were genuine contenders this year.
“How excited do people get when the ball goes from side to side with Scotland? Murrayfield grows an extra 10,000 people. But to play that under the pressure of expectation is a different question put to the team.”
Scotland host England in the Calcutta Cup clash at BT Murrayfield in the third round of the tournament on 24 February. It is Gregor Townsend’s first Six Nations in charge and his side will be looking to avenge a record 61-21 loss at Twickenham, which was a rare low spot of last year.
“They’ve got a great young coach. Bright guy Gregor, eh?” continued Jones. “Makes me feel like it might be time to retire when you’ve got a good young coach like that coming through, and he’s got them playing well. But, again, it’s different when you go in as underdogs than when you go in expected to win, and play with that panache.”
Scotland open the tournament in Wales a week on Saturday before successive home games against France and England. Calcutta Cup encounters always carry spice but there could be an extra pinch added if Stirling-born Gary Graham was to turn out against the land of his birth.
The Newcastle flanker, who is the son of former Scotland prop George, has been called up by Jones and the England coach was asked if the 25-year-old was close to being capped, and if Townsend had been in touch with him over the issue.
“Not sure about the second question because he’s English qualified, so my job as the England coach is to pick the best players who are English qualified,” said Jones.
“It’s not my job to play politics between countries. What’s impressed me about him is he’s a tough bugger. He’s hard and that’s the sort of players we want.
“He’s not afraid to put his head over the ball, he’s a good defensive player and he’s a player I think that can keep improving.”