A side that has lost two out of their last three games, conceding 12 tries to seven scored in the process, would not on the face of it appear automatic candidates for a ‘team on the up’ tag.
However, while it may not be bikini weather at Murrayfield today, that Scott Johnson echo of former Abderdeen football manager Ebbe Skovdahl’s famous and oft-regurgitated mini-skirts line about statistics, does spring to mind.
While far from perfect, any fair judge would rate Scotland’s performance at the recent World Cup a success, with the positive, attacking, high-tempo rugby they played the most striking aspect which has led to so much optimism going into today’s RBS Six Nations opener against England for the Calcutta Cup at BT Murrayfield.
“It’s the first Test in the Six Nations, which is a great tournament, and everyone wants to get off to a good start,” said assistant coach Nathan Hines. “There is expectation, a bit of excitement, everyone just wants to get rolling and start with a win.”
Hines was brought on board by Vern Cotter after last year’s Wooden Spoon whitewash and has been given the job title “resource coach” with responsibilities at national team, pro-team, age-grade and academy levels. He was also a ‘hi-vis’ presence during last year’s World Cup as “water carrier” providing a key link between coaching box and players.
He acknowledges the defensive record which reveals five tries conceded against Australia, four to Samoa and three by South Africa in those last three outings and said: “As a squad and management we are very realistic about performance. The only expectation that matters to us is what we put on ourselves.
“We are always wanting to improve. If that means looking at ourselves with a dose of reality then we will do that.”
Former Edinburgh lock forward Hines played England nine times in his 77-cap career, enjoying Murrayfield wins in 2006 and 2008, but insisted he didn’t approach those encounters with any feelings of extra edge.
“Personally, for me it didn’t matter who I was playing,” he explained, “I just wanted to win. It didn’t matter what game or who it was.
“I don’t think it has any more needle because it is England. The guys are focused on winning. They are all competitive by nature, and I think that sometimes being too competitive can be your undoing.”
Edinburgh hooker Ross Ford will be making his 12th appearance against the Auld Enemy and, while the fact he grew up in Kelso rather than Wagga Wagga might mean facing England does come with a bit of added spice, he is broadly in agreement with the man he packed down in front of on many an occasion. “I think a lot of that’s created by the public and the media upping the ante for the Calcutta Cup,” said Ford, who will win his 95th cap today.
“But it’s always a great game to be involved in for those reasons. When you’re walking about and people are talking about the Calcutta Cup and getting stuck into the English, stuff like that, you enjoy being lucky enough to be part of it.
“It’s slightly different for the players. You have to understand that when you’re on the pitch you can’t be all fire and brimstone, you’ve got to think about things and make sure that you’re judgment and skills aren’t being clouded.”
Ford is looking forward to his head-to-head battle with volatile England captain Dylan Hartley, the hooker who has served a total of 54 weeks in suspensions across a controverial career.
The Scot said: “I won’t wind him up, we have focused this week on what we can control. If we do that well then it does create pressure on the opposite players as they are having to react. So we need to be proactive, do our things right then it puts the pressure on them to react to us.
“I have come up against him [Hartley] a few times, he’s obviously a very abrasive player. He’s hard and he’s good in the set-piece. I don’t expect anything different, I expect him to be the same again. He has the captaincy now and I can’t see that changing given the way he plays.
“He’s been picked because of his qualities in the set-piece and the way he gets about the park so I look forward to meeting him.”
Ford will be flanked again by his Edinburgh mates Al Dickinson and WP Nel and, when asked if it is the best front row he has been part of, he said: “It’s certainly up there. It’s been good being able to work with WP and Dicko at Edinburgh. There are so many different packs and we have managed to solve so many problems during games and that’s good for us coming into an international.”
An intense set-piece and forward battle is predicted and Hines was probed about the hunch Scotland, with the selection of two ‘opensides’ at flanker in John Hardie and John Barclay, would look to move the English pack, with their two ‘blindsides Chris Robshaw and James Haskell, around as much as possible. Hines said with a smile: “Is that what we’re going to do? You think I’m going to tell you?
“We all know applying pressure on the other team is how you get an advantage. England will be trying to do it to us. It’s a question of whether it’s getting up in their faces or any other tactic to put pressure on them.”