Vern Cotter has called on his players to defy England’s “fairly clear” belief that Scotland won’t last the distance and will be blown away in the final quarter of tomorrow’s huge Calcutta Cup showdown at Twickenham.
The Scotland head coach leads a virtually unchanged squad from the win over Wales, with Hamish Watson in from the start for the injured John Hardie and the uncapped Cornell du Preez on the bench the only alterations, in search of a first Triple Crown for 27 years, the ending of a 34-year hoodoo at Twickenham and the keeping alive of their championship hopes.
England have named their explosive back-row dangerman Billy Vunipola, who made a comeback from a knee injury for his club Saracens last weekend, on the bench for tomorrow’s encounter, which will see the home side aiming to equal the world record of 18 consecutive Test wins.
Cotter said that he had not paid much attention to the pictures of a training ground whiteboard which seemed to suggest Vunipola could be in the starting line-up and is not surprised that his counterpart Eddie Jones will look to use him and other big-name replacements as impact players who finish the job and snuff out Scottish resistance.
“Billy has only played 70-odd minutes. I think his [Jones’] philosophy is: ‘Scotland will come down here and throw everything in it. We have a stronger bench, we’ll finish the game’. That’s a scenario that seems fairly clear.
“It’s up to us to stop that. So we don’t want to use energy unnecessarily, we want to stop things quickly, we have to be smart with the ball. Then, hopefully, we can hold them when they make that surge at the end.
“We will have enough power in our legs. Our bench players are very aware of England’s strategy. And our boys are keen to impress.”
Despite the speculation earlier in the week, Cotter was not surprised to see Nathan Hughes in the No.8 berth.
“We didn’t look at it [the whiteboard], we had a fair idea of what it would be,” said the Kiwi. “It was more about what we were doing, but when we saw their team it confirmed what we thought it would be.
“Billy comes in and that strengthens them and puts them in a better position for this game. It just makes our task a little harder.”
While acknowledging the obvious strengths of the defending champions, Cotter was keen to talk up his own team and indicate that Scotland would not be intimidated by the occasion.
“They’re a good team but I think we are too,” he said. “We want to go down there and not have to defend the whole game. When we defend we know we will have to do so resiliently and when we get our hands on the ball we have players who are very keen to express themselves.
“There is obviously excitement to play a big game at Twickenham with two wins under the belt. The feet are firmly on the ground. The players know how hard this is going to be.
“We’ve been a bit knocked around, so the early part of the week was recovery, then we’ve looked at fundamentals and clarity.
“We don’t like the idea of going down there just hoping to win. We like to construct and build a victory. That’s what this week is about. The players are very keen to do that.”
Cotter insisted that the various prizes on offer to both sides had been kept out of the preparation process.
“[England equalling the world record] hasn’t been discussed a lot within the team. Neither has the Triple Crown or the Calcutta Cup, nothing has been discussed,” said Cotter. “It’s about the team and trying to get the content right.
“It’s about organisation and structure so we can perform at our best. The team which kicks off on Saturday has 80 minutes of rugby to focus on, this team is doing nothing else, nothing else has been talked about.”
While his opposite number Jones was jousting with the media in a prickly press conference 400 miles south, Cotter was a picture of calm determination and took time to praise what the Australian has achieved with England in accumulating a 100 per cent record.
“Eddie has done a good job, he’s a very good coach, a very thorough and competitive person and he brings that to his coaching,” said the Scotland boss.
“Coaches have different characters and styles and that’s his. Everybody has their own, we respect each other and he’s good fun and good company. I like having a chat to him outside of the game but we both like to compete as much as possible and that’s what this game’s about. Neither Eddie or myself are playing the game so it’s about the players on the field.”
Cotter revealed that Richie Gray had not trained in the early part of the week after picking up a knock playing for Toulouse last weekend but had fully recovered and once again packs down with his brother Jonny in the second row.
Tim Visser was rewarded for his excellent performance against Wales with the retention of the No.11 jersey, with Sean Maitland, who had been nursing a rib injury, not in the 23 but travelling with the squad as cover.
Full-back Stuart Hogg will draw level with Jim Renwick, Colin Deans and Tony Stanger in a four-way tie as the most-capped player from the famous Hawick club when he makes his 52nd international appearance.