Is Complacency the Only Thing That Can Stop England from Beating Scotland?

Danny Coyle@dannyjpcoyleFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2015

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 28:  (L-R) Chris Robshaw of England and Greig Laidlaw of Scotland pose with the trophy during the launch of the 2015 RBS Six Nations at the Hurlingham club on January 28, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Stu Forster/Getty Images

England and Scotland collide at Twickenham this weekend after both saw their proverbial Six Nations bubbles burst.

For England, aspirations of a first Grand Slam since 2003 were destroyed in Dublin, while Scotland’s promise of a new era has instead seen three defeats, the most recent a spirit-crushing home reversal to perennial whipping boys Italy.

Stuart Lancaster’s men at least have slim hopes for the championship and will be heavily fancied to turn Scotland over in convincing fashion on home soil. They have not lost to the Scots at HQ since 1983, a 22-12 win for the men from north of the border.

With an unbeaten record at the ground stretching back over 30 years, it would hardly be surprising to find expectancy high among both players and supporters that all England need to do is turn up to make it four defeats in a row for Vern Cotter’s men.

In the past, accusations of arrogance and complacency have been leveled at the English concerning the fixture, only for those misgivings to betray them when Scotland are the opposition.

So yes, on paper, England have the better pack and more incisive back line, and yes, with all the preparation and analysis of the opposition that goes on during a Test week these days, complacency should be the only barrier to a win for the home side on Saturday.

Here are three occasions on which complacency cost English rugby dearly when faced with the boys in blue.

1990, Grand Slam decider

England traveled to Edinburgh for the Grand Slam decider of 1990 against a backdrop of social and political opposition to Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax and its dummy run north of Hadrian’s Wall.

England were led at the time by Will Carling, a man who came to embodyat least for the Scottish supporters who needed a second invitation to identify a hate figure in a white shirtperceived English arrogance, a notion fuelled in no small part by the tabloids’ transposition of his head onto the body of King Edward II in the buildup.

Carling told Robert Philip of The Telegraph:

We were far too complacent while Scotland were absolutely right for it. We totally underestimated them that day because we'd never entertained the possibility of defeat. But we were out-muscled, outmanoeuvred, out-thought and outplayed. The English lads who had been on the '89 Lions Tour - which I'd missed with a busted leg - didn't really rate the Scots who'd been with them in Australia. Oh, we knew they had four or five very good players but a number of others, to be honest, who were not that great. So the level they rose to was incredible.

Scotland won 13-7, and a Tony Stanger try passed into Scottish rugby folklore.

2000, Slam hopes washed away

The driving rain at Murrayfield didn’t look like it would cause England many problems as they went 10-3 up in their quest for the Grand Slam in 2000.

Scotland had lost all four of their previous games in that year’s Championship, so a healthy lead looked to have set England on their way. But as BBC Sport’s Bryn Palmer recalls, they began to think it was going to be too easy and didn’t respect the conditionsnever mind their opponents:

England inadvisedly tried to play rugby in the wet conditions, while Scotland summoned reserves of strength and defensive resolve to repel the favourites.

A ferocious opening quarter saw scuffles breaking out at every turn as the fired-up Scottish forwards - with 7ft giant Richard Metcalfe and flanker Jason White making their debuts - waded into their opposite numbers. A Duncan Hodge penalty opened the scoring, only for England to take a 10-3 lead courtesy of Lawrence Dallaglio's converted try and a Jonny Wilkinson penalty.

But Hodge's kicking first kept the Scots in touch and then put them into the lead, before the fly-half delivered the decisive blow, diving over the puddles from close range for the game-clinching try.

1999, England nearly slip up

A year earlier, England nearly allowed themselves to waste a winning position at Twickenham.

They were 14 points up in the blink of an eye and appeared to see it as a job done, only for Scotland to come roaring back with two tries from Alan Tait and one from Gregor Townsend, per ESPN Scrum.

Had Kenny Logan not left his kicking boots at home, the Scots would have won a glorious last Five Nations Grand Slam, a painful memory that the wing struggled to shake, as he explained years later in The Telegraph: "I’m still haunted by the fact that those kicks cost us the game — and, as it turned out, a Grand Slam triumph in what was the last-ever Five Nations championship."

It was a close shave for England and should serve as a reminder to the players this weekend that with Scotland’s vastly improved back line, they must remain watchful.

It wasn't a lesson they learned quickly back then, however, as they threw the slam away on the final day at Wembley when they lost to Wales in dramatic fashion.


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