England's Six Nations contenders were subjected to what the coaches call a "spike" in training yesterday: they set about each other with meaning, as a way of cranking up the emotional heat ahead of the meeting with Scotland at Murrayfield this weekend. Afterwards, Graham Rowntree was asked how he thought the Scots might react to being Calcutta Cup favourites.
The forwards coach replied: "When you look at where we've been – the unspeakable past – they'll be licking their lips. Scotland always save some of their passion for us, don't they? But those are the emotions that drive you. Playing a big match like this, away from home, against opponents who are expected to beat you? I envy the players."
That striking phrase, "the unspeakable past": was it Rowntree's way of saying that he no longer wanted to talk about the World Cup in New Zealand, or was it something more?
Either way, he has a job to do. "We don't have as much experience as previous England teams, but the players aren't training as though they're lacking experience," he said. "We've selected on talent and form. What impresses me about the people we have is both their energy and eagerness.
"This is a tough challenge but it's the same every time we play the Scots: it's a fire-and-brimstone game. We're new and we'll go to Edinburgh with some fear inside us because no one expects us to do well. But we'll have something to say about it, I think. We're certainly not going up there to lose."
Was he surprised that T-shirts celebrating a Scottish victory were already in circulation? "Yes," he said. "That does surprise me. But that's up to them, isn't it?"
Last night eight of the 32-man training squad were sent back to their clubs. Most surprising were Calum Clark, the Northampton flanker, and Joe Simpson, the Wasps scrum-half. This appeared to guarantee selection for the Wasps hooker Rob Webber, Leicester lock Geoff Parling, Scarlets No 8 Ben Morgan and Saints scrum-half Lee Dickson and loose forward Phil Dowson, as well as Saracens' Owen Farrell (left) and Brad Barritt. The Harlequins prop Joe Marler and centre Jordan Turner-Hall were also retained.
The starting line-up will not be confirmed until tomorrow.Reuse content