By Alan Dymock
SPORTS PEOPLE often talk about the ‘control-ables’ – the things you can have an impact on. In modern rugby that means striving for a high tackle count, carry rate or being able to make that two-on-one pass when you are more worn out than a joke about Piers Morgan.
Sometimes that is hard when so much around you is screaming, flashing and generally massaging Deep Heat into your brain. Being cool can be that much harder in the Six Nations. And then there is the Calcutta Cup. Then there is the Calcutta Cup in Edinburgh.
You can control and plan all you like, but history shows us that tries don’t come often and upsets are possible in the oldest international fixture of all. Jot down your best team and what they are capable of on paper, but Scotland versus England at Murrayfield can be a slow march into madness.
England have only scored one try at Murrayfield since 2004. Scotland have only scored one try against England at Murrayfield since 2004. Scotland have dropped their captain from their squad of 23. England have kept the same team that lost in the closing stages in Paris last week. England are sticking with youth. Scotland are still experimenting. Scotland’s set-piece has a bit of the blancmange about it. England’s scrum is heavily fancied by pundits, but creaked against France.
What does this all add up to? Well, it would be a waste of eveyone’s time to say something as passé as “expect the unexpected” or that it will be “fascinating.” It is likely that the only thing stopping this match going the way of the bookies’ predictions is the actions of the players who have never featured in a match between the Auld Enemies.
This is where England maintaining a side can help them, with young Jack Nowell instantly being told he can make amends for the few little slips he made against France. Luther Burrell gets the chance to try and latch onto Billy Vunipola’s offloads again. Jonny May will be aching to do something other than feeling a flash of face-pain and trudging off the dirt.
On the other side of things, Chris Fusaro – imagine an opponent more irritating than having a Cheeky Girls song stuck in your head for a fortnight – is playing his first ever game of international rugby ever, in the fixture every Scottish child dreams of playing in. On the bench, colossal lock Jonny Gray has replaced his brother so he can feature in his fist Calcutta Cup match. No pressure, kid.
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England arguably have much more cutting edge, but perhaps it is safer to say that both sides will be slugging away and that referee Jerome Garces may be forced to use his cards at some point. When tempers inevitably flair and the crowd gets on top of both sides and history becomes another weight to bear, it will be the squad able to have a moment of clarity and deliver (maybe only for one measly score) that will avenge last week’s heartbreak.
If ever there was a weekend where the end result means more than style or statistics, it is Scotland versus England in Edinburgh in 2014.