Calcutta Cup: Finn Russell calls on cool heads to prevail for Scotland

Home team's co-captain assesses the reasons for greater Scots success in the fixture in recent years

Finn Russell
Finn Russell speaks at Scotland's eve-of-match press conference at Murrayfield. Image: © Craig Watson.

THERE was a time when the Calcutta Cup was all about history and passion and, from a Scotland point of view, nursing grievances real or imagined as a way of getting into what was deemed the right emotional state to take on England. At that time – and it probably did not end too long ago – it was scarcely conceivable that a Scottish side should go into the game in a cool and composed frame of mind.

But times change, and Finn Russell, for one, believes that composure will be a key quality as the home team bid for a fourth consecutive victory in the fixture this afternoon at Murrayfield. Scotland’s co-captain lost his first three encounters with England, including the humiliating 61-21 defeat at Twickenham in 2017. But since then the record has improved markedly for today’s home team, who have won four of the last six meetings, as well as drawing 38-38 in that memorable 2019 match in London.

Part of the reason for that improvement, clearly, is the steady maturation of the squad’s most gifted players such as Russell. But, speaking yesterday [Friday] at Murrayfield, the 31-year-old Bath stand-off suggested that a subtly altered mindset had also played its part.

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“I think now we’re much more professional around this fixture,” he said. “And we’re not seeing it like if we beat England it’s a successful campaign for us. We’re viewing this equal to the other games in it.

“We know the challenge that lies ahead and everything that’s behind it through the history of Scotland and England and whatnot, but we’ve treated this week professionally and we’ve got to treat this game as professionally as possible instead of getting caught up in the past and thinking back to either the victories we’ve had or the losses we’ve had.

“I think there was probably more emotion talked up in this game before, about Scotland-England, the rivalry and what was going on there. There was probably more emotion through the week and that was something that would have been spoken about, whereas this week we’ve not done much of that.

“There’s almost been the opposite – trying to take that away this week. In the past if we were able to beat England it was a huge result and we used to celebrate it – a lot.

“Don’t get me wrong, we all still celebrate. But it’s a different way. The team has come on a lot and I think the mentality as a group has come on a lot in the last five, 10 years. There’s a lot of things that are similar, but at the same time there’s probably a more professional take on this game.

“I think (the win in) 2018 would have been the start of it. Then 2019 was a very strange game, being 31-0 down then coming back to draw. 

“We’ve had a few good wins after that. But I think that was potentially the start of that changing, and then the comeback in 2019 secured that belief and confidence that we had against England.

“So it’s been something that’s been building. It’s not just one result, it’s something that’s taken time to change.

“You might have some boys in the team that have only ever won against England – they won’t know what it’s like to concede 60 points down at Twickenham. Unfortunately, I do.

“But yeah, it’s good that’s where we’ve got to, and the new boys coming through will view it differently to how I view it or the other boys in the teams against England who have lost badly – how we view the game and how we’ve progressed as a group and where we’ve got to.”



Of course, no team makes progress in isolation, and while Scotland have steadily got better in recent years, England also look more formidable opponents than they did this time last year. Part of the reason for that is the influence of new assistant coach Felix Jones, the man who masterminded the Springboks’ blitz defence at last year’s Rugby World Cup.

That defence restricted Scotland to a mere three points when the countries met in a pool match, but Russell believes his team have learned the lessons from that game.  “There were chances in that game against South Africa that we probably never saw on the pitch,” he said. “Under pressure we probably went into our shell a little bit.

“We just need to have belief in ourselves and trust the work we have put in over the last six months to a year. At times we will be under pressure and it will be tough, but we can fall back to what we have done this week and the last few weeks building up to this game. We can have belief and confidence in ourselves and hopefully we can take the chances that will be out there.

“If they try to shut me down, then we might have to go through Sione [Tuipulotu] or Huw [Jones] or Blair [Kinghorn] or someone else further out to create more chances. It’s not just down to me to create things. We’ll be looking to other boys to get away from them.”

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About Stuart Bathgate 1392 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.

1 Comment

  1. Firstly,scotland were robbed of that try against France,and probably one of the worst decisions I have seen . However scotland is in ascendancy ,put that decision against France behind you go out today and WIN .Prove to everyone how good you have become.


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