England players reminded they had ‘their pants pulled down’ by Scotland a year ago
By kickoff England will know if they could be 80 minutes from a third Six Nations title in four years or playing for the Calcutta Cup
England’s scrum-half Ben Youngs (second left) and Dan Cole during a training session at Twickenham in London. Photograph: Getty Images
Eddie Jones has been giving history lessons this week, albeit with his usual touch of revisionism. Asked why England’s unbeaten record over Scotland at Twickenham dates back to 1983, he could not resist one of his trademark wisecracks. “1883?”
He is, of course, 100 years out, and he knows it too because he has been reminding his players of the history of England’s annual fixture against Scotland. Reminding them that it was first played in 1871 and no doubt that only 12 months ago England had “their pants pulled down”.
Jones does not often look backwards, but you get the feeling he is trying to keep his players’ minds focused. For Twickenham is alive with possibility today.
By kickoff England will know whether they could be 80 minutes from a third Six Nations title in four years, or simply playing for the Calcutta Cup. It is the latter outcome that Jones is guarding against, no doubt aware that Twickenham will inevitably be subdued at 4.55pm if Wales have beaten Ireland to complete the grand slam.
Jones has given his players the choice as to whether or not they watch proceedings unfold in Cardiff – Jamie George is among those to confirm he intends to – but what better way to avoid distraction then than remind his players that England have not lost to Scotland at Twickenham in their last 17 meetings?
“We try to put pressure on ourselves in terms of maintaining records like that,” said George. “We have been made aware of it. Eddie likes to look at the whole picture. Whether we use that as motivation, I guess that’s individual.”
The players will not admit it – mentioning the word “revenge” is a sure-fire way to illicit a stern shake of the head – but Jones is obviously still sore over England’s defeat last year.
He has opted against keeping Ben Te’o alongside Manu Tuilagi in England’s midfield, but even with the more lightweight Henry Slade in his side, England’s head coach believes a Scotland team badly depleted by injury and as long as 10-1 with some bookmakers will struggle to contain their powerful runners.
Jones has stopped short of instructing Will Carling, now part of his backroom staff, to conduct any rabble-rousing speeches about England’s 1990 defeat by Scotland, after which the then England captain “vowed I would never lose to your lot again, and am very pleased to say I kept that promise”, but Ben Youngs, who passes Danny Care’s record to become England’s most capped scrum-half, is another taking motivation from what has gone before him.
“There is a huge amount of history,” the Leicester player said. “There is no denying we want to be unbelievably physical and we want to be ruthless in how we go about the performance, and that is what we are after. If guys want to draw [last year’s defeat], that is fine. It is whatever individually gets you right. We want the best performance of the tournament so far. How you get that individually it is up to you.”
Some players, then, will use other ways to motivate themselves, and it was telling that Billy Vunipola admitted at the start of the week that England’s defeat by Wales – and therefore the fact their destiny is out of their hands – will be “niggling away all week”.
Indeed, if all goes to form against Scotland, England could well find themselves ruing their inability to stem the second-half tide in Cardiff.
“You can’t afford to perform like we did in that 20 minutes against Wales,” said George. “We’d be disappointed because we set out to win the tournament, as every other team did. But especially after the way we started.”
That Jones has picked a team as close as possible to that which started against Ireland – Mako Vunipola and Maro Itoje miss out through injury but he has named 13 of his side from Dublin to face Scotland – is also telling.
Any talk of the World Cup has been off limits in the England camp throughout the campaign, but Jones’s side for Japan is increasingly taking shape, and regardless of whether they are crowned champions the improvements made since their fifth-place finish a year ago are marked.
“I look at the experience,” added Youngs. “I look at how we are set up. I look at the coaching experience in the room. I feel like this time we are in a great spot.”