SCOTLAND’S anglo-disenchantment is perhaps typified by one simple stat line: out of the 23 players named in Vern Cotter’s match day squad for today’s Calcutta Cup clash, only one – Ross Ford – has ever tasted victory against the Auld Enemy.
Whilst the veteran hooker may not appreciate his age being brought to light – he is only 32 – it does unveil the real crux of the matter: Scotland, to put it mildly, struggle when it comes to playing England. In fact, since 1990 the Scots have managed just three wins in 28 meetings. Never mind the fact that Scotland are without a win at Twickenham since 1983, the gulf between the two sides has been gargantuan wherever they’ve met for the best part of three decades.
Although Ford – who will be hopeful of appearing in his twelfth Calcutta Cup this weekend off the bench – featured in two of Scotland’s victories in 2006 and 2008, his ex-Edinburgh teammate Chris Paterson experienced all three, including perhaps the most celebrated of Scottish Calcutta Cup triumphs this century: 2000’s final day upset.
Paterson – who holds both of Scotland’s records for caps (109) and points (809) – was making only his fourth appearance in a Scotland shirt when Clive Woodward brought his impressive England squad to Murrayfield seventeen years ago, and the former Edinburgh and Gloucester full-back recalls just how unfenced the home side were.
“We were huge underdogs. The season started in a defeat in Italy, in what was their first ever game in the competition. From there we lost away in Ireland, but I was with the A team for both those losses. I came in for the next home game against France [Paterson scored eight points in a 28-16 defeat], where we performed reasonably well, but still ended up on the wrong side of the result ,and then we lost again in Cardiff – where we really didn’t perform,” he says.
“So, we really didn’t have a hope, whilst England – who had won every 6 Nations match so far – were on cloud nine. At that point, they were really beginning to build towards their 2003 World Cup.”
Whilst Scotland – who had won the previous year’s Five Nations – were in the midst of championship hangover, England had set about destroying the competition at an alarming rate. With four convincing victories and 19 tries to match, Clive Woodward’s side had strolled to the championship with ease after only four rounds, and with a grand-slam now in their sights they turned their attention north to Edinburgh.
Written off by supporters and the press alike, Scotland were surely lambs to the slaughter, but as Paterson recalls, Ian McGeechan had a few tricks up his sleeve. With a packed Murrayfield at fever pitch, stand-in captain Matt Dawson led his side out onto the pitch where they were met by a chorus of boos, and Scotland’s wily coach was in no rush to send his troops out in order to divert attention.
“We didn’t know when England ran out, because you’re in the changing room and the door is locked,” explains Paterson. “You could hear someone was knocking on the door and trying to force it open, and it must of been the referee, but we just did as we were told – we waited until the team manager said: ‘On you go lads’.”
“I believe England were out in the rain waiting for five minutes, but that used to happen in away games. Teams would plan for those kind of mind games. It doesn’t happen now with the TV companies having so much influence, but coaches would try and get away with all sorts of tricks – especially at home.”
Duncan Hodge and Johnny Wilkinson swapped penalties, before a bullish try from Lawrence Dallaglio gave England a slender 10-9 lead at the break. Despite having James McLaren sent to the sin-bin, McGeechan’s side had battled bravely – and with the heavens now opening above Murrayfield, the second-half was sure to be a different type of skirmish all together. The weather, however, was not something the home side rehearsed for.
“With it being the last game of the 6 Nations, we were into April, so it had been really quite dry in the build up,” says Paterson “I remember staying at Houston House Hotel and taking part in the captain’s walk through on the morning of the match and even then it was dry, but when we got on the team bus one or two spots of rain started to fall and the sky just looked really black en-route to Murrayfield.”
“When the rain came on, it just got heavier and heavier; and we realised this is going to be a lot worse than we thought.”
With Scotland handling the wretched conditions proficiently, Hodge gave his side the lead with a further penalty. England were now struggling to match the intensity of the Scots, who were playing in a nothing-to-lose manner.
“There were two really important things that I’ve never forgotten,” says Paterson. “The first was that we mentioned the likes of Iain Balshaw, Johnny Wilkinson, Mike Tindall and Lewis Moody: they were all star players for England, but were still very young. I remember Ian McGeechan said:’They haven’t experienced Murrayfield before’. No matter how good they may be as a squad, they haven’t walked out into Murrayfied before: and it is a completely different game here and they won’t know what is coming.”
“The other thing was that with Matt Dawson being their scrum-half, a lot of their game was built around quick taps and bringing a high tempo. So we were tasked as a back three, to make sure we were in within striking distance of Dawson every time there was a penalty.”
“So we did that two or three times really early on and that completely stopped their momentum.”
With five minutes remaining, man-of-the-match Hodge touched down to put Scotland 19-10 up and on the brink of famous victory, but then Wilkinson hit another penalty only moments later to ensure a tense finish- not that the novice Paterson felt any of that.
“It’s funny because – this sounds really weird – but the longer I played, the more pressure I seemed to feel. As a young player I really didn’t feel it,” he says.
“I remember Craig Moir was on one wing and Glenn Metcalfe was on the other. Moir, like me, was pretty inexperienced – I think he had earned his first cap the game previous against Wales – and Glenn was absolutely fantastic with us. He was not only a brilliant player, but a brilliant bloke as well, and his experience really helped us to win the game.”
“We had a couple of new caps who really contributed as well; Jason White was making his first start up front and he was really important in the game, just in terms of his physicality. I think Richard Metcalfe was making his first appearance as well, so just another massive man who matched up well against England.”
“The likes of Martin Leslie were outstanding; whilst the midfield partnership of Jim McLaren and Gregor Townsend was really strong. So we had a lot of big physical players, who could play tactically, that really suited the weather on the day.”
As Scotland held on for a famous victory, the final whistle sparked delirium amongst the Murrayfield faithful. Whilst the match will rightfully be remembered for Hodge’s heroics, the lasting image that will strike a note for many Scottish supporters is that of a bloodied and beaten Andy Nicol holding aloft the Calcutta Cup in the driving rain.
Paterson – like all Scottish supporters – hopes to see John Barclay replicate Nicol’s antics this weekend, but having lost at Twickenham six times he knows all about the difficulties the famous old ground presents. Despite never coming close to lifting the HQ hoodoo during his time with the national side, he insists that he “loved the challenge” – which was perhaps personified in his try saving tackle on Ben Foden in 2011 – his final appearance at Twickenham in 2011.
“Twickenham has got this reputation of being this horrible place to play, but so it should be. If your playing away from home, its going to be horrible. But I was just inspired by it. You always thought to yourself: ‘Right, I’m playing in front of 80,000 English supporters – lets really take them on!'”
“Unfortunately I never did come out on top there – we had some close games over the years, but during that era we never really threatened to win down there. Despite that, I still loved every minute of it.””On Saturday, I think we really have to be brave and by that I mean play a lot of rugby. Scotland have some brilliant attacking players, who are able to play the game at a high tempo. I think we all know where our biggest threats are throughout the back-line and out wide.”
“What has to come first is the physicality. I think England will try and bully us up-front and it will be more like the French game rather than the Irish or Welsh fixtures. But when the opportunity comes we have to get the ball to the edge. I know England are winning, but I don’t think they are playing particularly well. It will be a tough nut to crack, but I genuinely think there will only be a score in it either way.”
Stuart hails from the Borders town of Selkirk and has been around rugby all his life, largely thanks to the influence of his father, John. Not only a fan of the modern game, he is a keen rugby historian, and produces a regular 'Throwback Thursday Column' for The Offside Line.