Scotland to keep ‘cool heads’ in Calcutta Cup clash

Matt Scott insists Scotland won't make the same mistakes which led to a 20-0 drubbing at the hands of England in 2014
Matt Scott insists Scotland won't make the same mistakes which led to a 20-0 drubbing at the hands of England in 2014
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Matt Scott has revealed some of his Scotland team-mates were so fired up to face England on their last visit to BT Murrayfield they were even moved to tears.

But those pre-match sobs of raw emotion two years ago were soon replaced by a depressed wail at the final whistle as the Scots suffered a painful defeat.

The 20-0 drubbing remains a sore point for the Dark Blues, with Edinburgh centre Scott admitting he and his team-mates were too pumped up as they took on the Auld Enemy.

Now he insists lessons have been learned and it will be a cooler, more collected side that opens this year’s RBS 6 Nations against Eddie Jones’ team tomorrow.

“The last time England were here we went way over the mark in terms of emotion,” said Gloucester-bound Scott. “Boys were even tearing up in the changing room before the game.

“I thought I’d go out and have an amazing game because I was so fired up. I thought I was invincible.

“But I ended up feeling helpless out on the pitch. The emotion affected our play.

“We played so poorly that day. We couldn’t get any of our attack structures going. We were 15 headless individuals running about the pitch.

“It was an awful experience but I think we’ve learned that, yes, this is the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield, yes, everyone is going to be fire and brimstone and extremely pumped up but we need to take a step back, put our cool heads on and play a bit of smart rugby.”

There is a litany of grim stats detailing Scotland’s rapid rate of decline over the last decade and a half. It’s eight years since they last beat England. Even worse, you have to go back to 2004 to find the last time they even managed a try on home soil against the English.

But faith has been restored by their march to last year’s World Cup quarter-finals and Scott knows much will now be expected of Vern Cotter’s team, especially with their weekend opponents still in a state of flux following Jones’ recent arrival.

“That’s the beauty of the Six Nations,” he said. “Every year you go in with things to prove or momentum to build on.

“It’s interesting the dynamics going into this game. Both squads have got different motivations and experiences over the last 12 months.

“The punters are right to expect a lot from us. We are aware of that pressure. But we can’t go in with this burdening us. We have to take the shackles off and play the game we have been practising for the last 12 months.”

As much as the Scots have moved forward with their England 2015 display, real questions remain over their defensive frailties.

They have conceded 30 points or more four times in the last year - but Scott is hopeful a solution has been found.

Former Springboks coach and breakdown expert Richie Gray has been recalled to his homeland to help defence coach Matt Taylor come up with a plan.

Scott said: “One of our first meetings when we came into camp was to identify [those defensive weaknesses]. We saw Ireland only conceded two tries over the whole of last year’s Six Nations when they won it. In contrast we were into double figures.

“If we are looking to win the tournament, to win big games like this, that is certainly an area we have to improve on. We can’t concede 25 to 30 points a game and expect to win.”

Meanwhile, Scotland coach Cotter has praised John Barclay’s attitude and desire to improve his all-round game after bringing him back to play his first Six Nations game for nearly three years.

The 29-year-old, who left Glasgow for Scarlets in 2013, will earn his 46th cap ahead of Blair Cowan in one of just two changes from the starting side that lined up against Australia in the World Cup quarter-final. The other sees Scott partner fit-again Mark Bennett at centre.

Barclay was brought into the World Cup training camp last summer but failed to make Cotter’s final 31-man squad. He played in two of the World Cup warm-up matches but has not played a major Test for Scotland since facing South Africa in November 2013. His last taste of Six Nations action was the 2012 defeat in Rome.

“It’s what John himself has done and the ability he has,” said Cotter on his decision to pick the natural openside who can play in all three back-row positions. “I think John Hardie has been playing very well at seven. But John’s experience at seven, his ability all over the park, means that he’s got the ability to back up someone like that. And he’s a good link player. So we feel it’s good to have someone who can make that pass and combine with the backs.

“I think that’s what he offers us. Blair will come into the game and keep attacking, he’s a great attacking player.

“We know that it’s very important that 23 players could be involved – and that they keep at them.”

With England opting for two natural blindsides in Chris Robshaw and James Haskell, the back-row battle is shaping up to be a crucial battleground.

Cotter added: “Blair covers three positions, as well. We know John plays No 8 for Scarlets and can play there, Blair has played there before – so we are balanced and keeping our options open.”

Cotter said that Bennett had been given the green light to play this week. “He was signed off by medical and he seems fine,” said the coach. “At first it seemed it was going to be a month or two. A second look showed that it wasn’t. He’s followed protocols and he’s back.”

Zander Fagerson, the 20-year-old Glasgow tighthead, is in line to become Scotland’s youngest prop since Bill Black in 1948 after being named on the bench.

“He’s got a couple of old boys helping along and it’s a very exciting moment for Zander,” said Cotter. “He is as good as I’ve seen [in that position] at that age.”

Saracens centre Duncan Taylor has also been named on the bench but faces fitness tests on a back strain. If he is ruled out his place will go to Sean Lamont.

“Duncan has a back injury and he’s been rehabbing but there are positive signs that he could come through and play a part,” said Cotter. “He can cover two positions from the bench. A final call will be made after a night’s rest.”