SCOTLAND have two battles to fight when they play England on Sunday: the physical one and the mental one. To an extent, that is always the case in any sporting encounter, but the mental aspect will be especially important at Scotstoun given the recent record between the teams.
Last year at Twickenham England won 80-0 in what turned out to be Shade Munro’s final game as head coach. It was a pitifully one-sided match, but more embarrassingly still, it was not even the biggest margin between the teams in the history of the fixture. That came back in 2011, when England won 89-0.
Scotland have improved considerably since the summer, winning three out of their six matches since Philip Doyle succeeded Munro, but they will clearly still have their work cut out for them on Sunday. Even so, according to Jade Konkel, who will be named at No 8 when Doyle announces his team today (Friday), the squad are now far better placed to deal with the mental as well as physical challenge of taking on the Six Nations favourites.
“We play with and against these players week in and week out,” the Harlequins No 8 said yesterday. “We have a lot of players in the Tyrrells Premier 15s who all have the talent to compete against these England players.
“We have to have the belief that we play them all the time and that this game is no different. We have to front up on the pitch and believe that we can. Yes, they beat us 80-0 at Twickenham last year, but at Scotstoun the year before we scored against them, we put in a performance, we were in their faces and made it a really hard job. We have to believe that we can do it and we have to make them really fight for it, because nothing will come easy to them on our home patch.”
Although Konkel has never lacked for self-belief, a quality born of her natural talent and a fiercely competitive attitude, there have been times in her 42 caps when she has appeared to be one of the few players in the Scotland ranks to have genuine confidence in her team’s ability to end up on the winning side. Now, however, she is sure that she is part of a squad with far greater reserves of self-reliance.
“We’re such a close-knit group on and off the pitch, and that culture is building,” she added. “Everyone has that mindset that it is an 80-minute battle out there. We aren’t afraid to call each other out either: that makes us tighter and we have that mentality that we want to perform and we want to win whatever it takes.
“It’s always tough. England are a phenomenal side. But – minus the score last year – we are closing the gap: our game and our players are evolving and it is always great to play against them.”