Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


The Calcutta Cup – a five point plan

Vern Cotter
Vern Cotter watches training - pic: © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

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.

40 Responses

  1. Great article. Some stuff to put our hopes in there. One thing (not that the article said it) that many are saying is this 100% performance nonsense. If we are to win then we need this and that. No team plays to their game the whole Match and masters the other team for the whole time.

    What we need is a performance that is good enough to win. Can we afford to make mistakes? Of course we can, mistakes are part of sport. Federer at his peak made a huge number of unforced errors throughout each match of that era. What he did was make them at the right time and not enough to stop his dominance over the opposition. So we need not to compound mistakes with another bad decision and take the majority of our chances and hang in there when it gets tough.

    Will England make mistakes? Undoubtedly. We beat Ireland with a performance that was far from perfect but did enough. We beat Wales when our first half was ok but second half was brilliant. Yes we probably need a better performance on Saturday but it doesn’t need to be perfect. England had a huge amount of penalties in the first half of Italy game. They do that again and we’ll be well ahead by half-time. There is hope all over the place, but of course it is the hope that kills you…

    Can’t wait!!!!

    1. Agree. Focussing too much on not making errors is not our game…thats Englands.
      Focussing on defence (especially scramble) and finding pockets of space to attack is.

      I know which game style I’d rather be watching.

      I never want to see my team feign injury…. it infuriates me when other teams do that…let them do that… they are lesser for it.

  2. The English midfield and pack are great in defence, but wide and at 10 not so much. I want to see us finding Ford and Brown and going at them. Finns job is to manoeuvre their defence so we can do this. Is he up to it?

    And by all that’s holy don’t let Vinopola get a five yard run up!

    1. After all the media exposure over the “leaked” line up, I’m not even sure that Vunipola will start. I reckon he’ll be used as an impact sub with about 25-30 minutes to go.

      The English player I’m most worried about is Jack Nowell. Yes he has stupid hair, but he ran rings around us at Twickenham 2 years ago, and he is the closest thing they have to a Hogg-type player, and if he’s on Visser’s wing (even though he played very well against Wales) he could cause us no end of problems.

      Seriously excited about this game though! I’m trying to keep my natural optimism suppressed, telling myself it’s at Twickenham, England will come out all guns blazing, 30+ years, etc., but I can’t help myself! It’s the best chance we’ve had to win there since 1999, and besides all that I have a lot to lose in a friendly wager with my English girlfriend, so we better win!!

      1. I think so too. Nowell is England best finisher ..a dangerous player.

        Farrell, Ford, Brown, Watson…. Meh!..would rather have our backs.

  3. Scotland’s defence has been tremendous, it really creaked -v- Ireland but on the whole has been very solid/professional.

    John Hardie will be sorely missed.

    Referendum makes several good points above, this is Finn Russell’s chance to outshine Ford/Farrell…..Edinburgh had a lot of success v Harlequins (home & away) & those days Mike Brown looked suspect.

    Russell varied the attack v Wales & must do that again, the replacements will be key & back row I’d go for Du Preez, he hasn’t shown the flair he displayed last season but put in a hard hard shift & Myreside last Friday, also Saturday would be a very opportune time for a return to running form for CdP

    1. Only Edinburgh player I’d think of bringing in is Toolis and the problem isn’t in the second row. Du Perez has been a shadow of the player. I think he’s been coasting and I cannot see Vern putting up with that.

      1. Du Perez – I’m getting fed up with all these Mexican Project Players…

    2. A chance for a first win at Twickenham in 34 years, a first shot at a Triple Crown since 1990, and an opportunity to perhaps win the 6 Nations for the first time and you want to pick Cornell du Preez – a player you admit hasn’t shown form this season?

      Havers man! It’s hardly a “very opportune time for a return to running form for CdP”.

  4. Has anyone seen a squad update regarding additional back rows being brought in after Hardie’s withdrawal? I haven’t and assumed that Denton would be the one to get the call up and put straight onto the bench, as I’m not too keen on du Preez on current form, or Rob Harley being the back row replacements this weekend.
    Looking at the expected teams though, I’ve been sort of mentally weighing up areas of the two teams against each other to see where I’d expect us to come out on top.
    Front row is our biggest weakness I reckon at the moment, especially when compared to England’s. Whilst it might not be as good as Ireland or France’s in particular, England will have scrum dominance based on the front rows. The positives in regards to the front row battle I believe are that ours is better in the loose, and that it will be the Glasgow unit which hammered Dan Cole’s Leicester recently.
    The second rows, whilst undoubtedly a serious positive for us, will be a close battle I believe, as Lawes and Launchbury in particular are both very good too.
    The back row is tricky. We should dominate the breakdown with Watson and Barclay, with Dunbar and Fraser Brown chipping in, against only Itoje, however with Hughes or Vunipola, Haskell and Itoje all there, they are much bigger men than us.
    At half back, its a battle of style, Price and Russell have more creativity in my opinion, but Ford and Youngs have better game management and tactical kicking. Price and Russell showed v Wales that they can manage a game just fine so I’m going to give us the edge here.
    In midfield, this is like the second row, very evenly matched. Dunbar and Farrell are both awesome in defence, albeit in different fashions. And Joseph and Jones are very well rounded 13’s with the ability to defend and attack equally.
    The back 3 is where I’d give us the biggest advantage. Hogg is the best creative player in the tournament, Seymour one of the best finishers and Visser on his Wales form is almost unplayable. As opposed to Brown who is solid if unspectacular, Daly who is very good but not a winger, and May who is as dumb as a brick and a worse version of Visser in my opinion.
    The bench forwards, has a massive disparity I believe between the two teams. In George, Mako and either Hughes or Billy, they have excellent ball carriers and potential game changers. Our bench meanwhile is pretty poor for a test team, mainly due to resources being stretched by injuries so much. Berghan and Swinson didn’t leave the bench v Wales, and Ford got less than 10 minutes.
    The back replacements should be better this week. I believe Pyrgos, Horne and Maitland will make up the bench giving us better options than Weir and Bennett. However, that being said, Care, Te’o and Nowell are quality operators and probably offer a bit more than our replacements.
    So overall scores are:
    Front Row – England
    Second Row- Tie
    Back Row – Tie
    Half Backs – Scotland
    Midfield – Tie
    Back 3 – Scotland
    Forward Replacements – England
    Back Replacements – England
    I hope I’m proven wrong, but I believe the front row, one of the most important units on the pitch, especially at scrum time, and the strength of England’s bench, combined with a winning mentality and home advantage, will mean that England edge it. Despite all of my reasoning however, I’m still wildly optimistic and the excitement as to what will happen on the final day as a result of a win is getting me carried away a bit.
    I can’t wait.

    1. According to his Instagram account Denton is in Barcelona watching the football. Doubt he would be out there if he was playing on Saturday! I reckon Cotter will bring in Gilchrist (should be Toolis) and have Swinson cover back row.

      1. Agree, should be Toolis and Swinson and I think it will be. Would usually agree with you about picking Gilchrist but he’s only had about 1 start and 1 bench appearance for Embra this entire 6N period I think.

        No word of Horne being called up either. I realise sometimes they parachute players in that haven’t officially been called up to the squad (a la Bradbury in the Autumn) but not aware whether this is allowed in 6 Nations and not aware of anyone except the stated squad training with them, as Bradbury was in the Autumn.

  5. My guess for the team is Maitland to start and Harley to bench.

    Visser raised his game against Wales but that doesn’t change that Maitland started and was tremendous against Ireland and France. Playing Visser against Nowell is a gamble.

    1. I’d say playing Nowell against Visser is a bigger gamble for England…based on physique and the form Visser is showing at the moment.

      Neither Visser or Maitland deserve to be dropped, to be fair. Id have both in the 23. Maitland covers FB also.

  6. I don’t know Stu, surely the 6ft 5 of Visser v 5ft 10 of Nowell is an advantage there to be exploited?

    1. Too right his height is a benefit….. His strike rate is not quetionable either, Visser 29 caps and 12 tries, Maitland 28 caps and 5 tries.Viser is 50% better in attack and those are the facts.

      The only reason to play Maitland is for his covering tackles which save Hogg from being exposed. I suggest this Harlequins revision of Tim Visser, runs good lines, goes looking for work, wins back restarts and is capable of doing his own tackling.

      I suggest we name him ‘Robojock’.

      If Visser does not make it, it will be down to the defensive shortfalls elsewhere in the side which we will accept all day long for obvious reasons.

      1. I like Robojock a lot, but propose THE TIMINATOR.

        “Hasta la vista, baby”

        “Let off some steam Bennett”

        “Nowell, your clothes, give them to me now.”

        Tim what is best in life? “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.”

        “Hoggy, get to the Chopper.”


    2. Maitland was superb against Ireland and in Paris. His try saving tackle was arguably more important than Visser’s and he had a few turnovers as well which were vital.

      Visser’s first 20 minutes against Wales wasn’t great. He is a gamble and I think we would fare better at Twickenham with Maitland’s reliable execution and intelligent defensive play.

  7. Point 5 – Have no regrets

    This is key for me. No matter what happens with regard to the score I hope that the players come off the pitch knowing that they have given their all, and could have done no more.

    As an addition I would ask that the players express & enjoy themselves. For me, this 6N has been fantastic to watch as a Scottish supporter because I can see players on the pitch who are enjoying their rugby, playing with and for their team-mates.

    Given what we have had to endure in the years since the 5N win in 1999 it has brought a huge smile to my face – win, lose or draw I hope the squad continue to play with the freedom of expression that has characterised this season.

    1. Excellent post!! Saturday is a HUGE ask, but….got to trust Cotter with the selections, he’s been just about spot on so far, and Price and Russell to have their top game heads on, no antics. The front row is what it is, we have to live with it.

      Hope we have one or two tricks up our sleeve, don’t think England are the smartest on the block. Apropos of which I saw a great shot of Poite lecturing Harley and Haskell, with an Alphabet of Rugby superimposed on it, saying “R is for Ruck”!

  8. My preferred 23:

    Reid, Brown, Fagerson, Gray, Gray, Barcs, Wilson, ‘Pinball’ Watson.
    Price, Russell, Visser, Dunbar, Jones, Seymour, Hogg
    Dell, Ford, Welsh, Toolis, Swinson, Pyrgos, Scott, Maitland

    My expected 23:

    Reid, Brown, Fagerson, Gray, Gray, Barcs, Wilson, Pinball
    Price, Russell, Seymour, Dunbar, Jones, Maitland, Hogg
    Dell, Ford, Berghan, Swinson, Gilchrist/Harley, Pyrgos, Weir, Bennett/Visser

    1. I think your starting XV from your expected XV is spot on. Like you, I only see Visser v Maitland as a debate. A VERY tough call. Think like you, Visser has the shirt and was outstanding last game – so he keeps it. Also for me a good call, as Maitland gives us terrific flexibility off the bench.

      Bench, I, like you cannot countenance Berghan coming on, has to be Welsh. Basically, if he’s not crocked I expect Fagerson to be asked to do the full monty again. (some way to learn, but he and we can bank this, he is going to be a terrifying prop in a couple of years).

      Already getting stuff from south of the border, definitely detect some angst.

      1. Interesting how Visser has gone from someone we don’t want near the team to a favourite to start. It is a close call with contrasting strengths but I think as others have said we should be looking to play our game and that means stretching England and scoring tries. So I would go with Tim despite being a big fan of Maitland’s alround skills.

  9. Has Berghan not played well for Edinburgh especially in the match against Glasgow? If Cotter thinks he’s the next best option over Welsh or anyone else then I would trust that judgement.
    I’d also start Visser and have Maitland an excellent bench option. Visser was unfairly maligned before the Wales game and looked full of confidence last week for his club too.
    Would like to see Ford targeted, he looked feeble trying to tackle the Italian on his way to the solo try 2 weeks ago. Have Dunbar crash in to him early on. If England are gonna try a rush defence in midfield then Russell’s smart chips can come in to play.

    1. Has Russell tried a chip yet this Six Nations? He’s kicked a bit and had decent touch finders and he has had his disasters with grubber kicks as well as some success I think but may be me just misremembering. However I don’t remember a chip yet. Could be the time and should it be collected we are laughing with this backline in behind….

      1. Can’t recall a Finn chip in the tourney, it’s a skill he’s good at. One just hopes common sense has prevailed and Dan Parks has finally been brought in to coach him grubber and place kicking. The missed touch from the penalty against Wales in the first half was a shocker.
        If England employ a tactic to try and starve Hogg of the ball when joining the line, which seems obvious when you see the damage he keeps doing there, it should give Jones a bit more room and we’ve seen in the autumn that he only needs a small chance to do serious damage himself with his quick feet and slipperyness. I think Jones has done well in the 6N so far in a subtle way, releasing Hogg perfectly and I think it’s only a matter of time before he lights things up. Hopefully on Saturday. Ultimately though I think England will strangle us and pull away in the last 20 mins when he benches come on. Shame we have way more injuries.

      2. Good shout. I think Jones has shown up well but chat elsewhere from opposition fans is he’s been disappointing. He’s done everything well except fell off a couple of tackles in the Ireland game. Our attack goes wide quickly so I think him and Bennett get less chance to run than we might like, as strike runner is usually Hogg and Seymour. Jones has helped construct Hogg’s first v Ireland and Seymour’s against Wales and is part of why we’ve been so clinical.

        Interesting interview on Been with Gatland. He named a number of Scots who just need a strong personal performance to get in the plane.

      3. I find it encouraging that Dunbar and Jones have been relatively anonymous in attack, despite our try-scoring exploits (albeit Jones has created space for others). It leaves me, and hopefully the opposition, guessing how they will be used and how Vern will exploit England’s awareness of the threat posed by our more obvious strike runners.

  10. RE: FF – I am a bit skeptical on Gatland’s chat about this game. This may sound biased but I agree of course if we win. But given that we are huge underdogs and in all probability probably will lose (though far more narrowly than in previous years) is making the Calcutta cup the ‘key match ups’ game perhaps just a way to drop Scots and keep the Welsh players that we bettered a few weeks back on the plane?

    Maybe I’m too cynical but I wouldnt be surprised…

    1. Maybe it’s a product of being 31 which means I’ve never really seen a Lions team with a good Scottish compliment but I really don’t care about the Lions…

      I feel this marks me out as being a bit weird as everyone else gets hyped about it but I don’t have any interest in it beyond wanting to watch good rugby.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’ll talk about who should be there and the relative merits of each player but that’s because I love talking about rugby.

      Long story short, I think Gatland will revert to type, take a team made up of trusted old heads, snub exciting players until the third test after 2 comprehensive beatings in the previous tests which will demonstrate his continued belief that the best way to play rugby is by running big guys into people until they or you give up.

    2. I think you’re right Ross, had exactly the same thoughts when I saw the Gatland quotes. It’s a set-up. The Italy match won’t count for anything even if we win by 50.

      If there’s just Hogg and a couple others in the midweek team I won’t give a stuff about the Lions and might end up cheering on New Zealand.

      1. I think that is unfair. So what if we beat Italy by 50pts?

        We need to measure ourselves against the best sides in the competition. Gatland wasn’t saying Scotland needed to win, just that Scottish individuals should show they can thrive in the toughest test environments by performing well at Twickenham, against massive favourites who are the second best team in the world. I think that is fair enough as we are going to NZ after all. It is the next step up for our guys who’ve shown they can boss our 6N rivals at home. Unless Wales have a dramatic turnaround I think half of the Welsh candidates have played themselves off the tour already.

        I loved 2009 because of the drama and BOD in his pomp, but almost totally disengaged from the last tour. If Scotland have half a dozen guys on tour and a couple in the test team as I expect, I’ll be watching. If they have more representation I’ll be loving it. I still remember watching the ’93 and ’97 tours keenly and would love to get that interest back. I also think it’ll help some of our boys take the next step and start being comfortable as favourites instead of underdogs, as O’Halloran talked about in recent press.

  11. Can we just get this over with already ?

    I feel sick just thinking about the game.

  12. The thought I keep coming back to is this: it is amazing that we can have a conversation about our realistic chances of winning at Twickenham and how this can be achieved. Two years ago, after a championship whitewash, we would have taken not-getting-gubbed. Now, we’re talking about winning with a pronounced strategy. We’ve come a long way in two years.

    1. I’ll admit I was a bit worried both Vunipolas would defy medical logic and be firing 100% from the start. I’m already sceptical about how two obese men manage to do the amount of carrying they regularly contribute.

      England’s bench is packed with ball carrying power but it doesn’t change the challenge for Scotland. Execute in the backs, win the breakdown and force errors from their back three. Collisions will take care of themselves.

  13. Not long now. It’s about time we find ourselves in this position when fans are talking about Triple Crowns, Championships etc. VC and his team have really done a great job in turning this team around.
    With respect to the Lions, Gatland will be watching the Scots boys more as they are the away team. He’ll pick seasoned and form players who can play well away from home. That’s a point often missed when fans chat about Lions selection. Sure, players step up a gear in front of their home fans, like our two wins against Ire and Wal. But we got beat away to France. If we manage a victory today, I wouldn’t be surprised if more Scots find themselves on that plane to NZ.

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