England - now officially styled "part-time employees of the Rugby Football Union" - are frequently, pejoratively accused of being predictable, an assessment they even appear to agree with, since they went into an unwonted Wednesday private session yesterday with the express intention of working out some surprises for the Scots.
Scotland have a Grand Slam to aim for at Murrayfield on Saturday whereas England have only a Triple Crown, "only" being an operative word since the crown has to Englishmen been a poor alternative to the slam in recent years. Even the Grand Slam itself, you might say, has become too predictable after winning three in five years.
And yet, as was pointed out to Will Carling yesterday, English victory over Scotland has become almost as perennial as his captaincy. Carling has faced the auld enemy nine times and lost but once. That 1990 calamity at Murrayfield altered the way England played but it is, he now insists, forgotten, if only because most of his present team were doing O-levels at the time.
"I can't remember when we played Scotland and were such underdogs," Carling said yesterday. "We are playing against a side that is obviously playing to its potential. They have 15 who all go hunting after the ball and are very, very confident, quite rightly. That's the key: the confidence to play a style of rugby that's been successful for them."
England's problem, he might have added, has been precisely the opposite: lack of confidence to play any recognisable style, or at least anything remotely resembling the liberated rugby of which he and more especially Jack Rowell, the manager, have habitually talked.
Now it has come down to pragmatism, which is a change of tune from before the France match in January. But then once Dean Richards had been recalled at No 8 England's rugby was bound to become more andante, less allegro. "The only duty is to win," Carling said. "The best way to win for England is to attack ball in hand. When we are playing well people will say it's entertaining."
Carling is due to give his press conference today but was brought in yesterday with Rowell, doubtless to curb anything unguarded such as the apparently embarrassing admission before playing Wales a month ago that the captain was no longer consulted on selection.
Also yesterday, the RFU helpfully disclosed details of its part-time employees' contracts - which was more interesting for taking place than for anything these deliberately banal documents contain. Those concerned must do that which is necessary to "acknowledge the special nature of the appointment of an England player and the unique physical demands of international rugby".
To this end they must adopt a suitable diet and training regime and maintain a tidy appearance, avoid other professional sports (rugby league, perhaps), not indulge in anything resembling Brian Moore-style slagging-off of the opposition (or referee), and even - heaven forfend - talk to the press. For this they will earn a basic pounds 24,000 each, plus pounds 2,000 per appearance, making pounds 36,000 for those part-timers who are ever-present this season.
n Referees in Wales may refuse to officiate on selected dates between now and the end of the season. Members of the Cardiff district of the Welsh Society of Referees have voted to support a call from west district to consider withdrawing their services in a dispute with the Welsh over expenses. The society will decide on Friday week whether to take some form of strike action.Reuse content