For many, this Scotland team has the best chance of ending their 34-year barren run without victory at Twickenham. And it’s true, something that seemed an impossible prospect when they last met two years ago seems a genuine possibility.
In 1983, England were a very different team to the one they are today. They had one Grand Slam in 26 years, played a desperately dull style and had a loser reputation. This time around, they are chasing a second straight Grand Slam, playing a more dynamic style of rugby (when they can) and have a winning reputation, having won 17 matches in a row.
Let’s not forget some of the poor England teams that have beaten the Scots in this time. The 2005 team, who were winless from their opening three games, saw off Scotland with seven tries. In 2007, Jonny Wilkinson scored 27 points as England eased home again. That English side would be thrashed by Ireland and beaten by winless Wales in another poor campaign.
But of course, this is also a very different Scottish side. There are an intelligence and a dynamism in the back row allowing them to compete for the ball and they have two superb locks, who provide stability in the lineout. In the backline, they have such a creative fly-half in Russell, who has dangerous options outside him. Scotland’s team is as difficult to pick as it was in 2007, but instead of there being a problem with lack of talent, it is now difficult to know which talented players have to miss out.
Will Scotland believe?
So we can take nothing from the previous 34 years? Certainly, that’s how the Scottish players will view it. Yet it will still be in the back of their minds, putting England away after all these years will be so difficult. So many teams have tried and failed, Twickenham is a ground of nightmares. Not a single Scottish player was alive when they last won at Twickenham and that tends to mean it’s difficult to be confident.
That would suggest that if Scotland do have to chase the game, they’ll lose belief. Thinking “if we haven’t done it for 34 years, there’s no way we can do it this time.”
But this Scottish team has already broken barriers. They won their opening game for only the second time in the tournament’s history in its current incarnation, trailing late on against the favourites. They ended a 10-year wait to beat Wales, coming from a try down to win with ease. It will be England, but they will see it as any other task, albeit one they really want to accomplish.
So of course they’ll believe.
Are we over-hyping Scotland?
Scotland have achieved a lot, but it is worth pointing out that they have had some defeats too in the last year. they were defeated by Australia at Murrayfield and failed on their travels in Paris. England beat Australia four times last year and saw off France at Twickenham the week before Scotland’s defeat.
Anything Scotland have done, England have done and then some. And Scotland have started from lower expectations. It is worth pointing out though that some of Scotland’s recent performances have been exceptional though. Their first and second half performances against Ireland and Wales respectively were so clinical in attack and strong in defence. England have just not shown that as much as the Scots.
If they could control the game, they really have a chance, and I think that’s why people believe. On the evidence of the opening three games, Scotland have shown that they can dominate. They’ve excited the crowd, they’ve looked a constant threat. Of course, England will back themselves, but they’d be mad to underestimate their rivals.
Will they do it?
Winning at Twickenham with England on the back of a 17 game winning streak is a whole different task to beating teams at home. Ireland and Wales are not to be rubbished. They have both played some fine rugby in this tournament and Ireland have all-but sealed a top four seed in the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
But England have won in all kinds of situations in this period, and whilst Scotland have shown class, they’ve also shown their vulnerable side. They did eventually overcome Ireland, but not before they’d let a 21-5 lead slip. They also failed to impress in a difficult first half against Wales where they could have been 10 points down but for a Leigh Halfpenny miss.
I think England have a big performance in them. Without a doubt, Scotland will make it a fine contest, and create a lot of opportunities, taking a fair few. But England will believe they’ve got the quality and ability to come through. They’ve been sluggish up to now, but the prospect of some big names returning and the motivation to make sure it isn’t the auld enemy that end the run will see them home. Whatever happens, the game will answer a lot of questions about these two teams.
Make sure to check out the latest episode of the Oval Office, our weekly rugby podcast, where we look ahead to Wales vs Ireland with Lee Byrne, and discuss Scotland’s chances of scoring a surprise Triple Crown.