Preparing for our battle of Hastings

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The Independent Online
Five years on from that infamous encounter at Murrayfield, the stage is set for the rematch. England and Scotland have played five times since meeting in that 1990 Grand Slam decider and we have come out on top on each occasion. Five of our squad were involved that day, yet the images still haunt the rest of us with a bright intensity. Nothing - not even the World Cup semi-final victory in 1991 or even last year's final- minute win courtesy of Jon Callard - can erase the memories, except possibly another win today.

Despite the fact that Scotland have also won their three games thus far (including that incredible win in Paris) and despite the vagaries of that animal called the Five Nations' Championship, England are still regarded as overwhelming favourites who just need to turn up to win.

The same was true in 1990 and one need only look at that game to appreciate the importance of not under-estimating the opposition. So how do we approach this encounter? Have we learned from those mistakes? We have not only drawn on 1990's game but also on last year's championship finale against Wales at Twickenham for inspiration.

A win would have given Wales every prize the Five Nations offers, just as it would for Scotland today. We couldn't allow that then and even more so today. Moreover, unlike in the Wales game Scotland stand in the way of everything we could possibly want from this championship.

Even putting aside any thoughts about winning the championship, the basic desire to win at all costs is now firmly embedded into the squad. Gone are the days when a "jolly good show" sufficed and too bad if we came off second best. Admittedly this is another step on the road away from the Corinthian ideals of our forefathers, yet without it we would still be the poorer cousins to our friends in the southern hemisphere.

On the pitch we have been going through much the same kind of game plan that we have strived for all this season, with, obviously, particular attention to how we feel the Scots will try to take us on. With Scott Hastings, Scotland have probably the best chaser of kicks in the game behind Australia's Timmy Horan. It is an obvious weapon of theirs and Mike Catt, Rory and myself will be sorely tested in this area.

Ball in hand, Scotland have reverted to the powerful rucking that was missing in their game in the last couple of years. When employed well, this is very hard to defend against and should draw some interesting comparisons to our more maul-oriented game.

To counter our mauls we expect that they will attempt to stop them at source by trying to collapse them - legally or illegally. However, should we continue our dominance in this area we see it as a more effective tool as it is a far better method of drawing in fringe defences. As soon as a player goes to ground in a ruck as a defender you are able to not commit yourself to the breakdown and hence bolster the defence elsewhere.

In the backs we are keenly aware of the dangers posed by the likes of Gregor Townsend and Gavin Hastings. I would be interested to know whether Gavin's try against the French was completely off the cuff or premeditated to exploit the gaps on the inside of the drifting French defence. However, this is taking nothing away from them as they are playing some inspirational stuff, particularly Gavin.

It is no secret that Gavin's return to form coincides with the Scottish revival. If we are able to keep him out of the game we will be going a long way to keeping the Scots at bay.

This is an opportunity which we have striven for, the chance to win the Grand Slam. A clipping is pinned up in our meeting room with a quote on it. It simply says that opportunity does not come to you, you have to take it by the scruff of the neck and make it your own. Now is our chance.

P W D L F A Pts

England 3 3 0 0 74 27 6

Scotland 3 3 0 0 75 47 6

France 4 2 0 2 77 70 4

Wales 3 0 0 3 31 70 0

Ireland 3 0 0 3 28 71 0

RESULTS SO FAR

21 Jan: France 21 Wales 9, Ireland 8 England 20.

4 Feb: England 31 France 10, Scotland 26 Ireland 13.

18 Feb: France 21 Scotland 23, Wales 9 Eng-

land 23.

4 Mar: Ireland 7 France 25, Scotland 26 Wales 13.

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