Although England travel to Edinburgh as Six Nations champions, the Scots have a good record against the auld enemy at Murrayfield, where England have not won since 2004. Scotland defeated England in 2006 and 2008. The match in 2010 was a thrilling 15 – 15 draw. History seems to be on the side of Scotland too; of the Calcutta Cup games held at Edinburgh since they began in 1879, the Scots have won 28 to England’s 26.
England ended last year’s tournament as champions, their first Six Nations title for eight years. But they were denied a Grand Slam on the final day of the competition, going down 24 – 8 to a rejuvenated Ireland.
England supporters looking for good omens may well wish to recall that the last time England played in Edinburgh on the opening day of the Six Nations, in 2002, they ran out 29 – 3 victors. The team that England fielded that day, of course, provided the bones of the squad that went on to win the Rugby World Cup in Australia the following year.
The Scottish team, with several new caps anxious to prove the selectors right and a vociferous Murrayfield crowd behind them, will need very little in in the way of motivation from coach, Andy Robinson. Indeed, Robinson may well calculate that this is a very good time to play England, as the latter come to Edinburgh as a side that is very much in transition, with a new coaching team and new captain. With a tough away game against Wales to follow, Scotland will be looking to exploit whatever weaknesses they can find in England’s new system.
England, for their part, had an even more disappointing World Cup than that of the Scots; as much because of the off-field indiscretions of some players as it was for falling short of expectations on the pitch. Coach Martin Johnson and three of his management team departed after this debacle and the subsequent widely reported leaks about discontent within the England camp. Several senior players, most notably Jonny Wilkinson, Lewis Moody and James Haskell, have moved on too, so it is a new look England side who will compete for the Calcutta Cup in Edinburgh this Saturday.
Stuart Lancaster contests his first Six Nations as interim England coach, supported by his assistants Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree. A permanent appointment, we are told, will be made after the Six Nations.
Lancaster has appointed a new captain for the Edinburgh game: Chris Robshaw, the Harlequins flanker. Robshaw is hardly the most experienced of internationals, having won just one previous cap, against Argentina in 2009. However, he is highly regarded for his leadership qualities at his club side and has captained Harlequins to victory in the final of the European Challenge Cup last season and to the top of the Premiership this year.
Scotland’s World Cup was a huge disappointment too, going out of the competition, for the first time ever, at the group stage and scoring just four tries. But they will be able to take some heart on Saturday from what was a fighting World Cup performance against England, as well as the narrowest of defeats against Argentina. Andy Robinson has been forced to make several changes due to injuries to key players. Centre Joe Ansbro and prop Alasdair Dickinson are both out. An even bigger gap is left by the absence of Robinson’s captain, Kelly Brown, who is replaced by the Edinburgh hooker, Ross Ford.
The match at Murrayfield will be Andy Robinson’s eleventh Six Nations game in charge of the Scotland team; a tenure which has seen just two victories. Yet his position appears to be secure, for now least, and he has a settled coaching team. Last year Scotland left it until the last game of the tournament and a victory against Italy to avoid taking the wooden spoon. Robinson will be eager to avoid such ignominy this year and a Six Nations opening day victory against their oldest rivals would certainly bring the tournament to life for the Scots.