A number of things may need to go right for Scotland on Saturday to propel them towards their first victory over England at Twickenham since 1983. Whilst we can only hope for a dry day, a sympathetic referee and an over-confident England, much of what Scotland needs to happen is within their own control.
1. Prepare for the Onslaught
After England’s pretty woeful performance against Italy two weeks ago, we should expect a huge reaction. Eddie Jones will have his team fired up and they are going to come at Scotland with all guns blazing in the first twenty minutes; in short, they will be looking to blow the Scots away before we have muddied our knees. We can only hope that Vern Cotter has got the players prepared for this and that they are ready to take that initial pace out of the game in whatever way necessary; feign a couple of injuries, have a captain’s chat with the referee, huddle before each line-out. It’s a professional era, and you can be sure that other teams would do it to us if they believed it would help win the game.
If Scotland can still be in the game after twenty minutes, then uncertainty may kick in for England, they will have to adapt their game plan – and we all know they are not too good at that!
2. Do the Unexpected
What the England vs Italy game taught us, is that Dylan Hartley’s men do not tend to think well on their feet. Whilst they will now have a plan in place to deal with the ‘tackle, not a ruck’ situation, the culture of a side cannot change overnight. With this in mind, Scotland need to throw in a few curveballs. By all means, test them out once by not competing at the tackle area to focus them on dealing with that, but then move on to something else quickly. Let’s hope they have something up their sleeve.
Scotland have proved to be the most innovative team in the Six Nations; think of Alex Dunbar’s try from the line-out against Ireland and the using of Tim Visser in the aerial battle against George North. That kind of innovation and ability to play what they see in front of them is where Scotland should have a big advantage over England who play a much more structured game.
3. Use the wingers differently
It is well known that Scotland like to play with width, and one suspects that England will be prepared for this by deploying a fast and aggressive line speed, perhaps with the outside centre stepping up further and cutting off the flatter pass. That often works against Glasgow.
The Scots will have to earn the right to go wide and need to pull in defenders first; we have done this pretty successfully during the campaign through strong ball carrying from the Gray brothers in particular. Against a huge and powerful England team, it won’t be as easy for Richie and Jonny let alone “lighter” players like Watson or Wilson, so the wingers can help out by offering running lines from depth off Russell or Dunbar (not something they have done a lot of to date); it will keep the defence honest, provide a different and pacier way of getting over the gain-line and ultimately help create opportunities out wide in subsequent phases.
4. Take Every Point Scoring Opportunity
Scotland have been masters of the red zone this year. Against Ireland, France and Wales they took their chances and kept the scoreboard ticking along at crucial points in the game. This is something we could only have dreamed of a few years ago.
At Twickenham, we will have to soak up a lot of pressure defensively in what will be a very physical contest, so it is going to be vital for the Scots to continue their red zone accuracy. Scotland’s decision making around whether to take the three points or go for touch has been good of late, and as long as Finn Russell can deal with the pressure of goal-kicking in front of a vociferous home support, then this will keep us in the game.
5. Have No Regrets
How many Scottish players over the last thirty years have returned from Twickenham wishing they had done something differently?
Probably quite a few.
It’s a bit of a cliché, but Cotter’s men need to leave South West London knowing they could not have given anything more. This Scotland team is good enough to win, but only if there is a genuine belief that they can do so.
England are hot favourites; England are looking to tie the world record for consecutive games won; England have 80,000 expectant home fans. Despite what Eddie Jones would have us believe, the pressure is all on them.
Scotland should approach the game without feeling any burden of expectation, but be prepared to really give it a go and be confident in their ability as a team to deliver a landmark result.