A NEW chapter in Vern Cotter’s Scottish rugby coaching career was due to open in today’s Calcutta Cup clash with England at Twickenham.
For the first time since the New Zealander took up the reins ten matches ago, players from Edinburgh will occupy a third of the starting places.
Previously, under Cotter, the ‘record’ was three and, with the reintroduction of Dougie Fife, Matt Scott and Dave Denton alongside Ross Ford and Alasdair Dickinson, there is at least an element of bringing in individuals with recent experience of pulling off a “must win”.
At least that is a view put forward by a fit-again Denton, who is also able to give a glowing assessment of his friend and flat-mate, Scott, whose return is a case of filling ‘dead man’s shoes’ with Alex Dunbar suffering a serious knee injury after already being selected.
“Last weekend, those watching on TV as Edinburgh won in Treviso might have thought it didn’t look too hard. “But (given) the place where Edinburgh were in, it was a must-win game.” said No.8 Denton.
That was a reference to back-to-back defeats which had left hopes of reaching the top six and a place in the next glamour European Champions Cup in jeopardy.
Denton added: “That win for Edinburgh showed me the mindset we must get in for this England game with Scotland. It was a small taste. But ..”
It is certainly the case that a backs-to-the-wall effort is required and the facts speak for themselves. So far in this Championship, Scotland full back Stuart Hogg leads the way in most metres gained (304).
However, on the debit side . .
• Top tackler is England’s Chris Robshaw.
• Top try-scorer is England’s Jonathan Joseph.
• Most off-loads are by England’s George Ford.
• Top ball carrying forward is England’s Billy Vunipola.
What can’t be measured is sheer desire and Denton reckons the Scots have it in abundance as well as a refreshed look with Scott – a scorer of two tries against Treviso – in the side.
Denton said: “Losing Alex Dunbar is a blow and there is no getting away from that. But we are lucky we have a great player in Matty to take his place.
“Matty does a lot of things really well and the most important thing is to get to the gain-line. England run a really aggressive blitz defence so, for us to get that go forward from 12 (inside centre) is massively important.
“If we don’t get that go forward, the guys in the wider channels are not going to see the ball. “Inside centres, the way we play, are an integral part of our team. It’s important any player in that position is playing confidently.
“Last week was the best I have seen Matty in a long time. He has a spring in his step and that is important for a player in his position. You need that confidence. Matt was unlucky not to get the man of the match last week – not that it mattered much to him (compared to the result). It’s great, though, to see him playing at that level especially against with a good English team who are going to put us under a lot of pressure coming up. We are prepared for that, though.”
The worry for Scotland is that Edinburgh have persisted in using Scott in the outside channel alongside South African Andries Strauss and the player’s versatility is bound to be tested.
Denton, too, could have his hands full against a direct opponent he rates highly.
“From a personal battle point of view, (Billy) Vunipola is a huge ball carrier for them,” said Denton. “He is a very hard worker and people don t always give him credit for that.
“He is on the ball a lot and they use him.
“The way we play we chop low and that is not an excuse to tackle passively. We have got to be aggressive and get them behind the gain line.
“If we let the England forwards get momentum they have a back line that can really run.
“If we get them behind the gain line, we are hoping they will run out of ideas. In the first two matches there were a few things we got marginally wrong, otherwise we could have come away with two wins.
“The result of the Italy game devastated the boys but the nature of this business is we can’t dwell on that.
“The coaches have made a real effort to turn that around. They were very hard on us and they had to be. If we want to take this team where we want to be and be competitive at the World Cup, we can’t have performances like we had two weekends ago.
“We are in a position we have been in more often that we would have liked but, particularly with the promise this team has shown, we want to make this right.
“We want to bring the Calcutta Cup back to Scotland.
“I am hoping I can bring a bit of energy and enthusiasm but the most important thing is I get my game right, know my roles and bring some physicality.”