If Scotland dominated their Calcutta Cup games the way they dominated the pre-Six Nations mind games at the tournament launch in London yesterday, the nationalist leader Alex Salmond would find his independence referendum a whole lot easier to win. With the annual championship 10 days distant, age-old assumptions of English rugby supremacy seemed a thing of the past. If the Scots have ever been more confident ahead of a meeting with their nearest and dearest, no one could remember the year.
The Scotland coach, Andy Robinson – a man of Somerset – was as hard on himself as he was on those who will oppose him at Murrayfield in the first round of this season's competition.
"It's time we stopped talking about our potential and started delivering some results," he said. "Over the last couple of years we've talked ourselves up, only to find ourselves scrapping to avoid the wooden spoon. That's unacceptable. We're here to win and I'm accountable in that regard. I don't want us to be unlucky losers. I want to be part of a successful team, and if it turns out that I can't make a success of this team..."
He did not need to expand on that final thought.
Robinson's most stinging words were aimed at England: not the new England under Stuart Lancaster, the caretaker coach, but the England of the recent past.
"I felt two or three of their players were disrespectful in the way they conducted themselves during the World Cup," he said. "Not just towards Scotland, but to other teams. It took many forms and I'm not going to sit here and go through them. But there is a responsibility on all of us to show respect to those we play against, as well as to those we play alongside – to conduct ourselves properly."
For his part, Lancaster was so intent on steering clear of the issues raised by Robinson that he drove off in the opposite direction.
"I've no interest in it at all," the Cumbrian said, when asked about big-match build-ups. "I ignore all the stuff that goes around games like this. Tit for tat, war of words stuff? You won't get any of that from me. I just like to get on with it."
Lancaster, who has not yet filed his application for the role of full-time England head coach, added that he and his 30-odd players talked through the World Cup misfire at a meeting in Leeds on Tuesday, before finally drawing a line. He has also held one-to-one meetings with each player. One of the most serious discussions was with Chris Ashton, an individual who can be as wayward as he is gifted and whose recent plan to leave Northampton for Saracens has caused a good deal of strife.
"We had a big conversation," the coach said. "It was about what Chris wants to get out of playing for England and the things I believe an England player should be doing. It wasn't about his swallow-diving when he scores a try. That wasn't raised. I was more interested in the collective behaviour of the players. I want to build a team in which people enjoy the company of each other, who work hard for each other, who make the supporters proud."
Unusually, the Welsh hierarchy went out of their way to be "boring", as Warren Gatland smilingly put it.
"I don't think the stuff Andy Robinson has been saying will affect England," he said. "They have enough to worry about just at the moment."
So does Gatland. Gethin Jenkins, the two-tour Lions prop, will be out until March with a knee injury and there are grave doubts over the fly-half Rhys Priestland and the flanker Dan Lydiate ahead of an opening game in Ireland. With the first-choice locks, Luke Charteris and Alun Wyn Jones, already out, they are likely to cross the Irish Sea without a third of their team.Reuse content