Two sides of slightly similar circumstances will face off in their final matches of the Six Nations, with so much hinging on the result for all the players and one coach.
For England, their 34-10 demolition job on France last weekend was the match in which they turned the corner. Martin Johnson and his embattled men proved to their supporters and themselves that they have the arsenal to compete with the world’s best.
The Scottish, one could say, is one match behind England. So close it appears to turning the corner, surely they must be one victory away from fulfilling some measure of promise.
It is said that England’s bad luck has run its course, but Scotland are still on a vexed road.
They are a side that now wields the one factor that often defines a good team—world class players. In men such as Euan Murray, Nathan Hines, Simon Danielli, and the Evans players, the Scots appear to finally have a sidecapable of achieving results.
They have been won but one match this tournament, but haven’t been embarrassed by any nation. Except by themselves—for Scotland has a pack, a set piece, a backline and has shown glimpse of a game plan good enough to beat any team.
So essentially, Scotland has been missing the all important factor to win a game of rugby, the element of mental toughness.
And for this, responsibility must surely fall on Frank Hadden’s shoulders.
He was set a minimum requirement by the SRU to win two matches this tournament. A loss will see Scotland finish fifth or lower in the tournament for the fourth time since 2005. Surely Hadden, who is the ultimate coaching survivalist, has run out of excuses.
It is difficult to remember the last time Scotland had such a capable squad, and Hadden’s coaching record of 16 wins and 24 losses holds up with his predecessors. It is a defining match for the former Edinburgh coach, for to defeat England at Twickenham will surely yield the wolves at his door.
Officially, Gordon McKie, head of the SRU has said that the review process will occur in April.
Recent history has been kind to Scotland, with two wins from their last three matches with their Calcutta Cup rivals. But to go beyond that is just ugly reading. Since 1991 the teams have clashed on nineteen occasions, and Scotland has lost 16 of those.
Worst still, Scotland haven’t beaten England in Twickenham since 1983, and in 137 years of competition, Scotland has won only 14 matches anywhere in England.
Martin Johnson will roll out an unchanged team, keeping his French conquerors intact for the 115th Calcutta Cup match. The challenge for England is a simple one; they must prove that the revolutionary performance last weekend was not an illusion.
If their discipline holds, one feels that the confidence that is permeating from England will prevail, especially at home.
This season, their pack has been relatively consistent, as has their set piece. But it has been their aggressive, if not obnoxious defence that has combined with a surprisingly stinging attack.
They are with Ireland, the joint defensive leaders, conceding only 58 points this tournament. But for a team that has only just proven their critics wrong, they are far and away the best attacking team of the Six Nations, with 13 tries scored.
Both Delon Armitage and Riki Flutey lead the championship will three tries each, and one would not be overly surprised if both names are now in the minds of the British Lion selectors. Indeed, this will be the last international game for the players for many months—unless selected for the South African tour.
Scotland have made just on change, bringing in Northampton Flank Scott Gray for John Barclay, who drops out of the match 22 altogether.
One feels that this is certainly a Scottish team that has the men to compete with England on their hallowed turf, but the test will be whether or not they believe that. If Scotland do lose, they will drop to tenth in the world, with Fiji overtaking them in the world rankings.
England by eight.
HEAD TO HEAD: England 66, Scotland 42, Drawn 17
Last Match: 8 March 2008, Scotland 15 – England 9 @ Murrayfield
Scotland: 15 Chris Paterson (Edinburgh), 14 Simon Danielli (Ulster), 13 Max Evans (Glasgow Warriors), 12 Graeme Morrison (Glasgow Warriors), 11 Thom Evans (Glasgow Warriors), 10 Phil Godman (Edinburgh), 9 Mike Blair (Edinburgh, captain), 8 Simon Taylor (Stade Francais), 7 Scott Gray (Northampton Saints), 6 Alasdair Strokosch (Gloucester), 5 Jim Hamilton (Edinburgh), 4 Jason White (Sale Sharks), 3 Euan Murray (Northampton Saints), 2 Ross Ford (Edinburgh), 1 Alasdair Dickinson (Gloucester).
Replacements:16 Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors), 17 Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors), 18 Nathan Hines (Perpignan), 19 Kelly Brown (Glasgow Warriors), 20 Chris Cusiter (Perpignan), 21 Nick De Luca (Edinburgh), 22 Hugo Southwell (Edinburgh).
England: 15 Delon Armitage (London Irish), 14 Mark Cueto (Sale Sharks), 13 Mike Tindall (Gloucester Rugby), 12 Riki Flutey (London Wasps), 11 Ugo Monye (Harlequins), 10 Toby Flood (Leicester Tigers), 9 Harry Ellis (Leicester Tigers), 8 Nick Easter (Harlequins), 7 Joe Worsley (London Wasps), 6 Tom Croft (Leicester Tigers), 5 Simon Shaw (London Wasps), 4 Steve Borthwick (Saracens, captain), 3 Phil Vickery (London Wasps), 2 Lee Mears (Bath Rugby), 1 Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks).
Replacements:16 Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), 17 Julian White (Leicester Tigers), 18 Nick Kennedy (London Irish), 19 James Haskell (London Wasps), 20 Danny Care (Harlequins), 21 Andy Goode (CA Brive), 22 Mathew Tait (Sale Sharks).