By Tadhg Peavoy
The Calcutta Cup represents the age-old traditions of rugby union, and more than any other game, embodies the rivalries that have developed over the years of trying to get the upper hand over your oldest enemies, and nearest neighbours.
In essence, it is always one of the most fiercely contested games on the rugby calendar, and as such, always a must-watch tie.
Rugby giants England have a quite distinct upper hand historically, with 71 victories to Scotland’s 42; the teams have drawn 18 times.
And in recent times, Scotland have struggled badly against their southern foe. In their last ten encounters, the Scots have just one two matches, and drawn one.
Last year’s 38-18 destruction of Scotland by England put in a very stark light where the two teams appeared to be. England going towards a home World Cup with a young side, growing better year on year; Scotland desperately searching for and failing to find the requisite talent to play the calibre of rugby needed to challenge for silverware in the professional era.
But the key to this tie in terms of competition is the location it’s played in. Last year the tie took place at Twickenham, where England have not lost to the Scots since 1983.
This year, action is at Murrayfield, where traditionally Scotland will drive themselves to distraction to prevent defeat. In the last four Calcutta Cups at the Edinburgh venue, England have won just once, in 2012.
With that statistic comes the Celtic nation’s hope they can continue that strong form at home.
The weather forecast for Edinburgh on Saturday (kick-off 5pm) is also for rain and wind, which plays right into the Scottish hands of attempting to slow down every ruck and maul, and drag their opponents into a dogfight.
Throw into that the problems with the Murrayfield pitch – it’s infested with nematodes, which cause the grass to cut up when played on – and the game takes on the feeling of a wet, damp, muddy, forward-dominated affair. Exactly, what the Scots will want.
But that won’t be enough. Scotland need to deliver a far better performance than they did against Ireland last Sunday.
In Dublin, they turned up for 40 minutes, and put Ireland under immense pressure for that time. However, in the second period they wilted, their pack was second best at the breakdown and in the set pieces.
Their backline never got moving and was pulled in and out of position by the movement of the Irish 9-15 division.
To that end, Scotland interim coach Scott Johnson has made changes, bringing in Chris Fusaro for squad captain Kelly Brown, as well as Matt Scott coming in for Duncan Taylor in the centre.
Sean Maitland can’t play due to injury and is replaced by Tommy Seymour.
The introduction of Fusaro and Scott are done to help boost creativity in the side and give Scotland an edge they lacked last week; that missing edge prevented them scoring a crucial try in their period of dominance for the first 35 minutes, and ultimately led to Ireland going in with a handy enough eight-point lead at half-time.
Despite England’s defeat to France last week, they looked in excellent form. They conceded two tries early on, which were bad from a defensive point of view, and were playing catch up from there.
But the tenacity and mental strength they showed to drag themselves from 16-3 down to lead 24-19 with the tie entering its dying moments was remarkable.
What they lacked then was experience: the experience to shut the game down; play percentages; hold on to the ball; and stuff it up their collective jumper.
Instead, the Red Rose lost an attacking lineout; gut sucked in defensively; and allowed danger man Gael Fickou the time and space to carve his way home for a match-winning try. Big mistakes that cost Test matches.
The positives, however, hugely outweighed the negatives, and the level of their individual performances was very high; this is reflected by head coach Stuart Lancaster selecting the same starting XV for this weekend’s battle.
In the front row, Joe Marler, Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole coped admirably with one of the toughest scrummaging tests in world rugby: playing France in Paris.
Courtney Lawes was immense at lock and Billy Vunipola at No 8 was one of the outstanding performers across the weekend of matches.
At scrum-half Danny Care had the urgency and passing ability to capitalise on all the good work his pack was doing in front of him.
Out back Luther Burrell showed plenty of promise on his debut at second centre. Mike Brown meanwhile was simply outstanding at full-back.
All sensible thought would indicate that England will come out fired up, and determined to avenge their defeat in Paris and get their championship back on track with victory in Edinburgh.
The Scots will try to make it an arm-wrestle; however, England have spoken of wanting to be an all-court team, able to play an expansive game and also get down and dirty with it. Whichever game we see on Saturday, England are certainly the favourites to come out on top.
Verdict: England to win by 12.
Live television coverage of Ireland v Wales and Scotland v England from 13:30 on Saturday 8 February, and France v Italy from 14:30 on Sunday 9 February, on RTÉ Two and RTE.ie (Ireland only). Live radio coverage on Saturday Sport (14:00) and Sunday Sport (14:00) on RTÉ Radio 1 and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide).