Scotland legend Gavin Hastings believes facing England is as tough a prospect this weekend as it was throughout his career, when he managed only two wins in 11 attempts against the auld enemy.
The former Lions skipper reckons Gregor Townsend’s men face the same battle to avoid being “strangled” by the powerful English that the Scots succumbed to so often during the great full-back’s time in the 1980s and 1990s.
“Not many highs, I only played in two victories in 11 matches against England, which is a pretty poor return,” Hastings told The Scotsman.
Matches against England produced some of the most iconic moments of Hastings’ career, with the two happy examples being in 1986 and 1990.
In the first, winning just his third cap, he booted 21 points in the record 33-6 rout and his brother Scott scored one of the tries after the Watsonian brothers had burst onto the scene in that year’s opener against France.
The second, of course, was the unforgettable Grand Slam decider win, when his perfect kick ahead into the corner was seized on by Tony Stanger for that iconic try.
He never experienced victory over England after that famous afternoon and two particularly painful moments to follow were the 1991 World Cup semi-final, when he missed crucial close-range penalty in a tense 9-6 loss and the desolation of 1994, when he wept in the post-match skipper’s TV interview following an agonising last-gasp 15-14 home defeat.
On that occasion, current coach Townsend looked to have sealed a famous victory with a late drop goal only for a controversial penalty decision, which became known as “The Hand of Rob”, to go against the Scots minutes later.
Scotland centre Ian Jardine was penalised for handling in the ruck but footage appeared to suggest it was actually Rob Andrew, with the dark blue cuffs on the England jerseys of the time fooling the referee. A distraught Hastings then broke down when being interviewed by Dougie Donnelly as the pain of defeat hit home.
“I never found playing England easy and clearly the results tell you it wasn’t a good strike record,” said Hastings, who will be in the BBC Radio Five Live commentary box for Saturday’s 125th staging of the Calcutta Cup.
“I know how difficult it is against a team that just have that strength in depth and have a team that’s capable of playing really powerful rugby up front and strangling you, starving you of the ball.
“That in many respects is going to be no different on Saturday. The guys are going to have to work incredibly hard just to get a hold of the ball and then worry about scoring points.
“Nothing has changed in all these years in terms of England. It’s as tough as it always been. That’s where we’re at.”
Scotland’s struggles to beat England have continued well after the Hastings era, with only three wins since he hung up his boots following the 1995 World Cup.
The recent bounceback over France after a shocker in Wales has the nation approaching the game in better spirits but there remains a great deal of foreboding about facing Eddie Jones’s side, who have won 24 out of 25 Tests since he took over and dished out a 61-12 hiding to the Scots at Twickenham last year.
“There’s been a few dismal performances of late against them,” said Hastings.
“A lot of the games we’ve had to face England first up so at least we’ve got a couple of games under our belt. We’re not going to be lacking in preparation time and getting up to speed to Six Nations rugby.
“If Scotland are serious about winning the game they’ve got to get parity up front, take the game to England and score tries. Because it seems inconceivable that England will concede a lot of penalties.
“There have been times when you’ve thought how on earth can Scotland score enough to win a game? We’ve shown now that we are capable of scoring tries and we’re going to have to score tries on Saturday. Our discipline has to be very good as well.”
Gavin Hastings is a Land Rover ambassador. Land Rover has a heritage in rugby at all levels; from grassroots to elite, supporting the game for two decades. @LandRoverRugby #WeDealInReal