SCOTLAND will rarely have a better chance to beat England than in today’s Calcutta Cup rugby match which opens the annual RBS Six Nations Championship at Murrayfield.
That’s the view of a Scot at the heart of the English game – Sale Sharks owner Brian Kennedy.
Originally from Edinburgh, businessman Kennedy even goes so far as to say he wishes the fixture was at Twickenham where Scotland haven’t won since 1983.
“This would have been a good opportunity to go to Twickenham and lay the bogey, that’s how confident I feel,” says Cheshire-based Kennedy, who has amassed his fortune through home improvement industries and once served on the SRU board.
Overall, he maintains: “I will be very disappointed if Scotland don’t win. If you look at the way the Scotland pack has come on there are some fantastic players there. It is not the same at the back, but games are won and lost in the pack.
“There is a vibrancy among the forwards that can really ask questions of the young lads of England. They have players of great potential, but they are totally inexperienced in the international arena. Murrayfield with 60,000-70,000 fans will be a cauldron and that will make for as good an opportunity as we have had to get one over on them.
“I don’t think English rugby is in a good condition. It has been mis-managed on the management and coaching side and there are still issues between the Premiership clubs and the RFU to be resolved.
“These problems come from the head down and it hasn’t been right at the top for a while in England where there is a two or three year building job in store for their team. If things aren’t right at the top in an organisation that is also usually the case elsewhere in a structure.”
The discussion moves to club level and the differences between the English Premiership, where relegation and the fight to win a Heineken European Cup place are drivers of ambition – and the Rabo Direct Pro 12 competition where there is no relegation and, crucially, Scotland teams are guaranteed Heineken Cup berths every year. This has enabled Scottish players to be rested at times in a situation that contrasts with England to the extent that battle weariness was a factor in only Saracens reaching the quarter-finals of this season’s Heineken Cup, Kennedy believes.
“There are 12 different owners in the [English] Premiership who can’t afford less games because it affects the income flow, and can’t afford relegation either because that brings the threat of basic insolvency,” says Kennedy. “The players in England have had to play week in, week out, whereas the Scottish-based players have been rested at times.
“There is a difference, too, between the RFU making all their profits and wasting them on administration costs while the other unions have to pay for their [club] sides and therefore are more prudent.”
The situation where Edinburgh and Glasgow do not have to qualify for the blue riband Heineken Cup may be about to come under pressure, though, Kennedy insists. “Things are changing on the European front where qualification is not like in other sports. It was right to do it the way it currently is – until now. Over the next two or three years it is inevitable there will be a more equitable system with the Rabo Direct Pro 12 league being used as a qualifier for the Heineken Cup.”
And there is another worrying message from Kennedy when it comes to replenishing his club’s resources. Over the past year, Fraser McKenzie has joined Sale from Edinburgh with Richie Vernon moving from Glasgow and Ally Dickinson from Gloucester.
“The Scots at Sale have a great attitude and when you have a good environment it is inevitable more will follow,” says Kennedy.