IN simpler times, everyone knew how England would approach a Calcutta Cup match. They were bigger. They were beefier. They would try to squeeze the life out of the game and out of Scotland, and if spectators lost the will to live while watching such a mind-numbing display, well, too bad.
Since it became known that Eddie Jones’ team had arranged training sessions with Georgia, who just happen to have one of the best scrums in the world, many people have concluded that the visitors at Murrayfield on Saturday will revert to type and again try to crush Scotland in a close-quarters combat. But Stuart McInally, for one, believes that it would be foolish to presume that England will only approach the match in one way, and has warned that they are a highly versatile side who can easily vary their lines of attack.
“They have some big forwards, and they expect them to run hard and get over the gain line,” the Scotland hooker said. “They’ve been doing their work against Georgia and will be looking to work us hard in the scrum and the maul. Georgia are a phenomenal scrummaging pack and they just want to test themselves against people they don’t always scrummage against – Georgia have an excellent scrum, so I’m sure they got a lot out of it.
“Then you look at the game they played against us last year and they threw the ball around quite a lot with success there as well. They’re a well-rounded team, one of the best in the world, so we’ll need to be on top of our game to cover all those aspects.
“They’re certainly a very well-drilled team and seem very well disciplined. For us it’s about finding the opportunities we can exploit over them.
“They’ve played pretty well [in the Six Nations so far]. They were dominant in that first game [against Italy], and the Wales game they were smart – didn’t try to overplay too much. The ball was quite greasy, but they seemed to kick a lot and strangled Wales; they played clever.
“There were opportunities there as well, which we’ll look at over the next week. We’ll give it our all. We’re pretty confident.”
A cautionary tale
Scotland were confident last season too, before the game at Twickenham, only to lose 61-21. And two years ago, the last time the fixture was at Murrayfield, they were widely tipped to win, but went down 15-9.
McInally was not involved in 2017, but did take part in the latter match, and thinks there is a simple lesson in it for his squad: if you play below your best, you are not going to get the better of England.
“I don’t think we were at our best, but it was a close game, 15-9. We know that when we get ourselves right we can compete with anyone in the world. We proved that back in the autumn and we’ll take a lot of confidence from that, but we also know that when we’re not right and are not at our game we can lose easily to Wales. There are lessons there to learn.
“I feel we’re a better team than we were two years ago, but I believe England are as well. It will be a great match.”
“I feel we’re still learning as a group. You’re never a complete package; you can never avoid having a bad day. We had a bad day in Wales, so we have to look at ourselves and wonder why that happened and make sure it never happens again. Everything from that moment onwards was about beating the French, which we did.”
One obvious lesson to draw from the France match is surely that Scotland cannot afford to give England a 10-point lead as they did the French. But McInally, while acknowledging that his team would try to begin the game more convincingly than they managed last time out, insisted that lasting the pace was the most important thing.
“It’s not how you start but how you finish,” he added. “We didn’t start well against France, but knew we just had to stay close, stay with them. We did, and we knew our fitness was good. We thought they might tire, which they did. When teams tire, they tend to give away penalties, which they did, and we came good in the last 20 minutes.
“We will try to start strongly, of course we will. We’ve not started well the last two games, so that’s definitely going to be something we’ll look at – how we start better. We’ll look at the game as a whole and make sure we finish strongly as well, not just start strongly.
“We’ll back our fitness against most teams. We train at an intensity that’s certainly the highest I’ve trained at as a player. We pride ourselves on being fit. We want to play a very fast game, so to do that we have to be fit and quick. We’ll back our fitness: we always try to finish a game strongly.”