6N: Scots still learning to handle hype England is used to
EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) — At the Six Nations launch in January in London, Eddie Jones had Scotland pegged.
Jones, who has coached England to 24 wins in 25 tests, mocked the swashbuckling Scots’ hype as title contenders, calling them “big darlings.”
He was more pointed about their prospects: “To play that (open) way under the pressure of expectation is a different question.”
Jones was proved right.
Scotland was blown away by Wales 34-7 in its opener, and prop Gordon Reid said this week they were guilty of believing their own hype.
Back in the real world, the humiliated Scots had considerably less expectations on them for the second round, but they still only scraped past an ordinary France side which hasn’t won its last eight tests. Scotland celebrated that one at Murrayfield with more relief than joy, because it took 70 minutes to get in front. At least they were back in the title race.
If, for now, Scotland play better when few expect them to win, then conditions are ideal on Saturday when defending two-time champion England come to a full house at Murrayfield looking to go three-for-three in the championship.
“The dangerous thing about this week is that there’s probably no expectation on them to win,” Jones says of Scotland. “It makes them a very dangerous team.”
Yet, England has proved over and over to be the bigger predator. It has preyed on the Scots for the past decade. The last eight matchups have all been England wins, none better than last year when Scotland rode a wave of unearned confidence and Bill McLaren-commentated nostalgia into Twickenham and was crushed by a record 61-21.
And since the tournament expanded in 2000, England has limited Scotland to just two tries at Murrayfield, the last in 2004.
England’s tryline remains as white as its jerseys. The defense, with some luck, conceded only two penalties to Wales two weeks ago in filthy conditions.
“England still defend very well, but just looking at ourselves as a team, compared to 10 years ago, five years ago, we do score a lot more tries,” Scotland flanker Hamish Watson says. “But I don’t think we have to score tries to win, it just means our defense is going to have to be pretty top notch.”
It’s going to have to be better than that. Scotland has allowed 60 points and six tries to Wales and France. At the very least, Scotland can’t afford to keep making bad starts: Wales was 14-0 up after 13 minutes, and France was 10-0 up after nine minutes.
Gregor Townsend rewarded Scotland for overcoming France by picking the same starting XV. Which meant a reprieve for flyhalf Finn Russell, whom Townsend calls his “attack leader.” Russell has yet to fire, and was replaced against France at flyhalf by scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw, who led the team home with flawless goalkicking.
Like every No. 10, Russell is a marked man, more so with a fragile mindset.
“He is a confidence player so if you let him get confidence early he is probably going to have a good game,” says England lock Courtney Lawes, a British Lions teammate of Russell’s. “We don’t want him to have a sniff at all.”
The two-week break has been profitable for the English. They scrummaged with Georgia, and trained intensely enough that Jones recalled No. 8 Nathan Hughes as soon as he was cleared of a knee injury. British Lions prop Joe Marler also made the reserves following a six-week suspension.
When it comes to expectations of England, they are usually met.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Peter Horne, Sean Maitland, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw; Ryan Wilson, Hamish Watson, John Barclay (captain), Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Simon Berghan, Stuart McInally, Gordon Reid. Reserves: Scott Lawson, Jamie Bhatti, Willem Nel, Tim Swinson, David Denton, Ali Price, Nick Grigg, Blair Kinghorn.
England: Mike Brown, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Owen Farrell, Jonny May, George Ford, Danny Care; Nathan Hughes, Chris Robshaw, Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje, Joe Launchbury, Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley (captain), Mako Vunipola. Reserves: Jamie George, Joe Marler, Harry Williams, George Kruis, Sam Underhill, Richard Wigglesworth, Ben Te’o, Jack Nowell.