The only England internationalist involved in Scottish club rugby has warned of a “sleeping giant” advancing on Murrayfield this Calcutta Cup weekend.
Steve Bates, capped at scrum half in 1989 and currently helping coach National League leaders Boroughmuir while working as director of sport at Fettes College, feels there will be no short-cuts to home success in the latest instalment of the world’s oldest international fixture.
“My view is that England have been a sleeping giant for a very long time.
“They have a massive player base and a level of preparation in the Premiership that means players are mixing in very good company every week,” said the 50-year-old whose pro coaching cv includes winning a title with Newcastle Falcons and guiding the fledging Border Reivers before their disbandment on financial grounds.
At the same time, though, Bates, who was speaking in the immediate aftermath of ’Muir’s latest victory, by 13-6 at Watsonians, and before England had kicked off their Six Nations campaign in France, admitted the jury is out on Saturday’s visitors to Edinburgh whose performance in defeat was widely stated to be a case of glorious failure.
“England should be one of the dominant forces in world rugby and they haven’t dominated as much as they should have done.
“They really need continuity of selection so that the team can be confident and start to play. That is where the All Blacks get it right with lots of continuity,” says Bates who, in a previous incarnation as a school-teacher, helped nurture the talent of a young Jonny Wilkinson at Lord Wandsworth College, Hampshire.
Hinting at possible schisms which may be exploited by Scotland – again he was speaking before the hosts kicked off and suffered defeat in Ireland – Bates said: “Picking young guys has been a gamble by England.
“You’ve got to make sure new cap selections are on merit and some of them came in by-passing the Saxons (second/development) team.”
That was a reference to winger Jack Nowell and Luther Burrell, pictured left, making debuts in Paris while Jonny May gained his second cap and Bates recognised the desire of England to shake up their back-line ahead of this season’s Championship.
Only five tries were scored in last year’s tournament (four against Scotland) and Bates added: “England tries will come from playing a settled team and that is what (coach) Stuart Lancaster is looking to do before the World Cup.
“They’ve got to get some try scoring potential in there somewhere.”
As for Scotland Bates has long held the belief the picture is not as bleak as some maintain.
“I’ve always said that for the pool of players Scotland have got at their disposal they do brilliantly. Having only two professional teams makes it hard to have competition for places. It is a tough start to any Championship, though, having Ireland away followed by England at home.
“The big question mark over Saturday’s game will be whether Scotland can manage England up front.
“If Scotland can do that and maybe attack in a way that seeks out a little bit of insecurity it could be very open.”
As for Bates’ current involvement he is happy to be involved again next season when, as seems inevitable, Boroughmuir regain Premiership status.
A win over Selkirk at Meggetland on Saturday would clinch the title and Bates said: “I’m really, really enjoying helping out a great bunch of lads at Boroughmuir who are very, very keen. The team is full of commitment and enjoy playing a good brand of rugby.
“Boroughmuir haven’t talked much about next year but if it’s appropriate I’ll see if I can do anything to help out.
“So far, touch wood, it’s going in the right direction as we now try to get over the line and claim the title.”