Assistant coach Nathan Hines has provided a Scottish response in the pre-Calcutta Cup mind games by questioning whether England’s long winning run might be more of a burden than a source of irrepressible confidence.
Scotland travel to Twickenham on Saturday seeking a first away victory over England in 34 years and a third victory in this year’s Six Nations which would deliver a first Triple Crown since 1990 and put Vern Cotter’s men firmly in Championship contention.
Last week, the England coach Eddie Jones wondered if the Scots could handle “the expectations of a nation” but Hines turned the issue around and speculated that the quest for a record-equalling 18th straight Test victory might weigh heavily on the home side.
He said: “When I was at Clermont Auvergne, we had a run of 77 wins in a row at home. That is a burden sometimes.
“The pressure of ‘am I going to the part of the team that loses this record?’, that can be paralysing at times.
“You went into games thinking ‘I don’t want to be part of that team’. I don’t think we’ve got any expectation, we haven’t won there since 1983. We’ll just focus on what we can to do to win the game and any other stuff is irrelevant really.”
That incredible run of 77 home wins eventually ended in Cotter’s last match for the French club before he left to take up the Scotland job. It was also Hines’ final Clermont bow before he returned to the UK with Sale as a Castres side, which included Scotland lock Richie Gray, won at the Stade Marcel-Michelin in May 2014.
On the face of it, ending a winless 34 years at the famous London stadium might appear more of a dead weight than attempting to extend a 17-game winning streak, but Hines insisted that issue would play no part in the preparations.
“1983 can’t do anything to help us,” he said. “We’ll prepare as well as we can to go down there and win but going on about 1983 won’t do us any favours.”
Hines, who will team up with Cotter again at Montpellier next season, played in four Scotland losses at Twickenham in a 77-cap career which ended with another defeat by England in the 2011 World Cup and he knows that Saturday will be a tall order against a side who are still on for a back-to-back Grand Slam.
“As much as people say England haven’t fired a shot yet, they’ve played three games, got three wins – and a couple of those have been close, showing they’ve got an ability to dig out games,” said the 40-year-old.
“I think it’s just a belief and a trust thing for us. The guys work hard in the week, they stick together and have a clear direction. With that, they’ll be fine.”
The scrum is a key area of concern and sure to be a big target for England but Hines was bullish about the Scottish pack’s ability to cope with the coming set-piece onslaught.
“I’m confident that we’re doing the best we can to make it a level playing field at Twickenham and provide us with a platform,” he said.
“On the day, all you can do is put that work in. I’m fully confident in the players we’ve got there, confident that they have the nous and talent to deal with what’s coming at them.
“There are times when we think we could be more consistent in that area. They’re working on it.”
Centre Duncan Taylor’s hopes of playing any part in the tournament appear to be over after he limped off just 29 minutes into his comeback for Saracens at Newcastle on Sunday.