According to England’s head coach Eddie Jones, Scotland are favourites to take home the Calcutta Cup this weekend. In the eyes of many, this is of course, him stirring the pot.
Scotland had a very positive World Cup, being denied a spot in the Semi finals in the closing moments of their Quarter final against Australia at Twickenham, by just 1 point (See the penalty here). On the other hand, England failed to make it out of their pool and looked like rabbits in headlights against the Aussies, who scored some excellent tries to knock them out with one game left to play. The final score was 33-13 in favour of the men from down under.
However, history is somewhat in England’s favour. The last time Scotland beat England was at Murrayfield back in 2008, where they won 15-9. I won’t disclose the date of the last time Scotland beat England at Twickenham but what I can say is it doesn’t make pretty reading for the Scots.
As a Scottish rugby supporter I have a bit of a Six Nations routine, that I’m sure is shared by many. Step one includes the excitement for the championship and the blind hope that this year Scotland might return to the former glory of the five nations. Step two, watch a few games and say that we’re not far away. Step three, watch some dire performances and talk about what could’ve been and how England have a bigger pool of players for the next year. Standard stuff. However, this year I don’t feel as if the optimism is just a figment of my imagination.
Many people don’t expect much from Scotland this year. They feel Japan deserved Scotland’s place in the quarter finals, following their triumph over three times champions South Africa, which shook the rugby world. Many claim that Samoa would have beaten Scotland if it wasn’t for the ref. But as the men in dark blue found out in the Quarter finals, you play the ref and sometimes decisions don’t go your way. Ref’s don’t always get it right and the results are the results. On top of this, most pundits recognise that actually Scotland played some very positive rugby and for the first time in recent years, could potentially contend for the title or at least find themselves deservingly in the top half of the table.
No matter your opinions on the referees and the Samoa game, you’d be hard pushed to deny Scotland the fact that they have played some of their best rugby in years recently and that they have some genuine class, young players such as Mark Bennett, Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray to name just a few.
It’s worth also recognising that despite how it looks on the face of it, England didn’t play dreadful rugby at the World Cup. When they were on their game, they scored some brilliant tries, it was just a drop in intensity and some crucial decisions that let them down. (Kicking to the corner instead of taking three to draw level with Wales being the most obvious) You can highlight the fact that England have only managed one Six Nations title since their 2003 World Cup title, which certainly isn’t a great record. However, they’ve come second for the last three years in a row and again, played some good rugby in that time. They, like Scotland, are a young side, with a tremendous amount of talent and with a new coach, if they get some wind in their sails they’re as likely to win the title as anyone (except perhaps, Italy).
This game really holds a lot of potential. It could continue what has been dubbed the ‘renaissance’ of Scottish rugby. On the other hand, its the perfect opportunity for Eddie Jones to silence his critics and for England to shake off those demons from their humiliating exit from their own world cup- the first host team ever to exit at the pool stages.
If this game wasn’t interesting enough, the form of some key players just adds to the uncertainty of the game. Scotland stars Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell have found themselves highly criticised recently for their lack of form. Many other players have been very quiet, such as Tommy Seymour and Sean Maitland. If Scotland are to contend, every man needs to be on his game.
England are also in a similar situation. With key players like George Ford and Jonathan Joseph playing their part in a Bath side that has been less than effective this season, their form has not reached the heights of the last few years. To add to this, Jones has ignored calls from the public to include Wasps’ from centre Elliot Daly and promising young Saracens lock cum blind-side, Maro Itoje, both of whom have been in scintillating form for their respective clubs of late (although they are travelling as injury replacements to Edinburgh)
On the other hand, Owen Farrell has been turning some heads at Saracens with some stand out performances in the European Champions Cup and in Scotland Jonny Gray has continues playing beyond his years as Captain of the Glasgow Warriors and imposes himself on every game.
But what do you think? Last night, I took to twitter to get your opinions. Sixty three percent felt that Scotland would win by a small margin and twenty percent thought England would by a small margin.
However, looking at other polls of a similar size, I think maybe the majority of my twitter followers are Scottish..! The one thing that seems to be a recurring theme when looking at these polls, is that no matter which side of the border you hail from, the majority don’t think it’ll be a large winning margin. Having considered all aspects from form, injuries, players, depth etc etc I can confirm that I have absolutely no idea what will happen. That goes for not only the Calcutta Cup, but the whole championship. What a tournament we have on our hands.
Despite all of this excitement, I’m going to conclude that the game will be awful. This is based not on my knowledge of rugby nor my opinion, but simply on the fact that instead of watching the game, I’ll be dancing as a ‘Happy’ yellow monster at a carnival in rural Catalonia. So don’t try and tell me otherwise.
As usual, let me know your opinions!
The Scribbler, 3rd February 2016