|Six Nations Championship: Scotland v England|
|Venue: Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh Date: Saturday, 8 February Kick-off: 16:45 GMT|
|Coverage: Watch on BBC One; listen BBC Radio 5 live & BBC Radio Scotland; live text commentary on the BBC Sport website & app|
The last time England played Scotland in Edinburgh, Eddie Jones began his weekend by questioning the ability of the host players to handle the expectations on them.
The Scots won their biggest Calcutta Cup victory in 31 years – and finished it by getting harangued by a bunch of clowns while on a train from Edinburgh to Manchester the day after the game.
The England head coach’s memories of Murrayfield aren’t so good and his mind games material is in need of a rewrite. When talking this week about the “niggly, goading” Scots, Jones revisited tired old territory.
He has previously had a jibe at having to sit in a slow-moving bus as his team is piped into Murrayfield. He has passed comment about having a pillar in the middle of the away dressing room. He has referenced the little stunts that Scotland supposedly try to pull in order to wind England up – a bit of nudging in the pre-match, a bit of encroachment into England’s half of the field in the warm-up.
Two can play at this caper, though. Allan Dell may not start the game on Saturday – he’ll be deputising for Rory Sutherland – but when pointing out that he’d seen a meme online recently that it’s been more than 1,000 days since England last beat Scotland, it sounded like he was engaging in a bit of Jones-esque baiting.
Dell said he was surprised at how things went down in Paris on Sunday when France beat England. “Yeah, I was surprised that England didn’t start quickly, then they looked a bit flustered and we’re not used to seeing that from them. Key players started making unforced errors.
“I don’t think Eddie did his players much justice throwing them out there (when the coach predicted an unleashing of massive brutality on the French team). They are a team full of pride with players who have achieved a lot at club level and international level. They’ll be hurting.
“They’re coming here to make a statement having not beat us for the past two years, something like 1000 days (for reference, it’ll be 1063 days if Scotland avoid defeat). Eddie, I know, will be in their ear. He’ll be hyping them up. What does a wounded animal do when it’s backed up in the corner? It attacks you, it has nothing to lose. A few of the (Scotland) boys were saying they hoped England would smash France and come here and underestimate us a bit. They’ll have a point to prove now.”
‘Not many people are backing us’
When Gregor Townsend names his team to play England on Saturday it’s almost certain that he’ll do so without knowing that he’s bidding for a little bit of history.
Since the SRU deigned to put a coach, instead of a captain, in charge of running the national team in the early 1970s none of them – not Ian McGeechan or Jim Telfer or anybody else – has gone unbeaten in three straight Calcutta Cups in the old Five or current Six Nations.
Scotland won three in a a row in the 1980s but Telfer was the coach for only two of them. They won four in a row in the 1970s but only three were championship Tests and Bill Dickinson was running in the show in just two. If Scotland win or draw on Saturday, Townsend will have a hat-trick of sorts.
“I don’t think many people are backing us against England this weekend,” says Dell. “That’s how it normally works, but we back each other as individuals and as a collective to get it right. (Before the Ireland game) You read in the press that we were going to get a hiding, that there’s off-field issues with all this chaotic stuff (surrounding Finn Russell).
“I think that played into our hands with the way we wanted to play. We were disappointed not to get the result against Ireland, we should have done better with the opportunities we had, but we take confidence from a performance like that. We’re always going to be underdogs in the media but we don’t listen to all that rubbish.”
‘We should have beaten England last time’
Dell has plenty of mischief about him, plenty of charm and intensity as well. He knows that in the Six Nations England have lost five of their last seven away games – and he plays on it with all that chat about them having a point to prove. He also knows that he’s never far away from the next question about Russellgate. No Scottish player can avoid it.
“It’s above me, the whole Finn situation. I was down in London when I heard what was happening and I thought, ‘Oh, ok…’ When we came into camp we were there to do a job and when he wasn’t there it wasn’t like we were mourning about it, we put our shoulders to the wheel and we had a gameplan and that’s what you do. You play with the players you have.
“Adam (Hastings) has got a lot of flair about him. He gave a good account of himself in Dublin and the team clicked well around him. He’s a classy player and showed last week that if he gets a run of games he’ll show what he can do. You can only control what you can control. When there are things out there that you can’t control there is no point worrying about it, it only adds stress and nerves and gets you burning too much negative energy.”
Dell started last year’s epic at Twickenham, leaving the field early in the second half before the grand comeback began in earnest. “This is Test rugby and we can’t afford to give teams a head start. With the second half we had, we should have won that game. We just need to make sure we don’t mess up in the first half again, stick to our guns and stick in the fight the whole time. That’s the biggest thing, not letting in easy tries and giving away stupid territory.
“There’s extra spice, isn’t there? We have the Calcutta Cup and we’ve had it for two years. It’s a home game at a packed Murrayfield. The atmosphere will be crazy.”