BITTERSWEET doesn’t come close to describing how Gordon Reid felt two years ago at Twickenham. On the one hand, he fulfilled a long-held ambition by not only playing in a Calcutta Cup match, but actually scoring a try in one. And on the other . . . Well, neither he nor anyone else in the Scotland squad that day needs a reminder of how badly the match unfolded.
The 61-21 defeat was a humiliation in itself, all the more so given the high hopes with which the players had travelled south. This one was going to be different, they hinted. They weren’t going to Twickenham to lie down and have their bellies tickled, as Stuart Hogg put it.
Well, they didn’t. Instead, they got their bottoms booted, to put it politely.
Two years on, Reid and his team-mates have been a bit more circumspect in their pre-match chat, so far at least leaving it to England coach Eddie Jones to indulge in mind games. As he looks back on that 2017 defeat, the London Irish loosehead is capable of seeing one good thing about it, other than his try, of course: namely the fact that it contributed to Scotland’s inspired display at Murrayfield 12 months later in which they regained the trophy. And, as he looks ahead to this Saturday’s game, Reid is aware that holding on to the cup will require a performance at least on that scale.
“It was great to get a try but, on the other hand, the scoreline obviously wasn’t the best,” the 32-year-old said with characteristic understatement. “We were really disappointed. It was a tough one to take. You try to take a positive in that I was quite happy that I scored, but you would take that away for the win.
“I think they embarrassed us a little bit when we were down there. The scoreline was just too much for us. We knew we could do better and I think that’s why – with other reasons too – that we were pumped up at Murrayfield and hopefully we can continue that at Twickenham.
“We know it’s a tough place to go and win. You can see that with the results England have had at home, they’ve beaten a lot of big teams. But we want to go down there, do our stuff, and try to get that victory.
“We know how big a game it is. We’ve not won down there in a long time. It’s massive. They’re going to be coming out firing after what happened at Murrayfield last year. We got one up on them at home, so they’ll come out firing.
“We’re excited for the game and we’re obviously going to take some positives from the game against Wales last week. We also need to work on some of the negatives that we had last week. The boys are keen to get out there, move forward and put things right.”
Always the Bridesmaid?
Whether Reid gets out there remains to be seen. A substitute last week, he was stripped and ready to come on for the final few minutes against Wales, but in the end Allan Dell played the full 80 minutes. As the only unused replacement, the former Glasgow Warrior might have felt a bit left out, but he insisted he understood why Gregor Townsend stuck with the Edinburgh prop.
“I can be pissed off, I can be raging, I can be annoyed, but the thing is, Gregor’s there to make a decision, I just need to back it. Allan Dell was playing awesome last week, I thought he had a really good game. He was cracking and his decision was to keep him on and I would have kept him on, because he was running hard with the ball, he was scrummaging well. His stats show that he hit something like 45 rucks and that’s being first or second there, so I thought he had a classic game.
“He’s a fit boy. I’m just happy to be here. If I’m involved at the weekend, then great, if I’m not, then that’s what it is.”
And at least Reid is already more involved than he was at the start of the Championship, having been omitted from Townsend’s original squad. He understood that decision too – not only in the sense of accepting the head coach’s right to make it, but agreeing with the reasoning behind it.
“Yeah, I was disappointed – you always want to be involved. But I knew I wasn’t playing the best around Christmas time. I wanted to improve and get better and I feel like I’ve done that. Gregor has obviously noticed that, so he’s brought me back in and I’m happy with that.
“As a person, you don’t say ‘I’m definitely going to be involved’. You always wish and you always hope that you can represent your country.
“I know the game and I know what to do – it’s about going out there and having fun. I lost that fun around Christmas time and now I’ve found it again.
“It was just different things with family reasons. My wife stays up in Scotland and I stay down in England. It was just different things. You lose it and, when you do find it, you get the love back for it.”
Fun Boy 17
On every visit since the last win in 1983, it has been virtually impossible for the Scottish squad to go out there and have fun at Twickenham, never mind loving the experience. But if Reid is to be believed, enjoying the afternoon is essential if you are to play well, and so, his advice to team-mates who have not played at the ground before includes the admonition to keep sight of the fact that it is a game, and games are meant to be enjoyed.
“You just go out and do the best you can. It’s a game of rugby at the end of the day. It’s done on the same pitch, you’re playing against players you’ve played against in the Championship. You just go out and do your stuff, that’s how it is. Yeah, you can see it as a massive game, but you just strip all that back and play the best you can play. It’s a game of rugby at the end of the day, it’s a bit of fun.
“We want to go down there and everybody talks about the past, the past, but we’re concentrating on the future now. We want to go down there and put on the best performance we can put out. There may be some boys that haven’t had that much experience, but we just have to work hard as a team. I think we can do well.”