Rugby Union / Five Nations Championship: England wary of the Murrayfield effect: Scotland dream of turning clock back to 1990 as Ireland are stung by criticism from their former coach

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The Independent Online
THIS is 1994, for heaven's sake, but after four years the echoes of 1990 are still everywhere - except in the rebuilt, unrecognisable, fully certificated Murrayfield itself - as England begin their Five Nations' Championship against Scotland this afternoon.

Mention that England are overwhelming favourites and you are told, even by Will Carling himself, that so they were in '90 when the Scots did a Grand Slam of their own instead. As it happens, the parallel between then and now is far from exact but it seems to be a suitable topic of conversation.

Thus Gavin Hastings, the Scotland, captain, said: 'Given an early score, this could be 1990 all over again.' And if that seems to be carrying confidence to extremes, the four English survivors of that game remember it well enough for Carling, their captain, to have arranged a video show of excerpts from the game.

Forewarned is forearmed, and all that. 'I don't think we were prepared in 1990 for what we walked out into and I don't want this team to walk out into the same thing,' Carling said. 'It's the game from which we learned most and we've used the video to show just what can happen if you really believe what you read.' So it was the newspapers' fault. . .

In one sense England cannot be prepared for what they are about to walk out into, since the reconstruction of Murrayfield is turning the old stadium into a modern marvel to match the new Twickenham. Twelve thousand tickets have been sold for the new west stand, which will ultimately hold 30,000 - which explains the work that went on through the night after a safety certificate had been denied on Thursday.

Yesterday all was finally well, though punters who will have to pass through mud and slime to reach the marvel have been advised by Edinburgh District Council against wearing stiletto heels and Gucci shoes. Given the Scottish Rugby Union's occasional penchant for sanctimony, its embarrassment does have its lighter side.

The principal beneficiaries ought to be the players, who have put the 'Murrayfield factor' to profitable use in recent years, most of all in the 1990 Grand Slam match. The 'factor' was sorely absent when the west side was unpopulated for the New Zealand game in November and, after the record defeat then and another hammering in Wales three weeks ago, Scotland need all the help they can get.

Here the 1990 comparison falls down. For a start, this is the start for England and second match for Scotland, whereas four years ago it was the climax of the championship as two unbeaten sides came together. This is a patently inferior Scottish team to the one of Calder, Jeffrey and Sole and, new-look though England undoubtedly are, they did beat New Zealand one short week after the Scots had conceded an All Black half-century.

Still, there is a better feeling about this Scotland team compared with those who played New Zealand and Wales, as if the fault for what happened previously lay entirely with selectorial incoherence. Not least, the temporary return of Gary Armstrong at scrum-half will be vital in committing England's dangerous back row and for the first time in this season's three internationals there is a threat wider out.

And there is a more solid aspect to the forwards, even if it has taken a duo from the West (of England, not Scotland) to achieve it. Alan Sharp and Andy Reed will be among the first to flounder, however, if England do the right tactical thing and open up so as to exploit the special talent of their new, and overdue, flanker Neil Back. His inclusion gives this match a fascination of its own.

For on Back's success or failure rests not only how England will set about the rest of this championship but also quite possibly next year's World Cup as well. With the 5ft 10in Back in the back row, they would be mad not to go for continuity of running rugby. If it does not work, then it will be back to a king- hit, stop-start, low-risk style, conducive to far bigger men, which beat the All Blacks.

Jim Telfer, the SRU's director of rugby, was at the Boroughmuir club looking for tips when England trained there yesterday, though his rugby knowledge is even more acute than everyone already acknowledges if he gleaned anything at all from the lightest of work-outs. 'I can understand him to be curious to see in the flesh players he's perhaps seen only on TV,' Geoff Cooke, the manager, said tolerantly.

Cooke said English rugby was without question stronger than it had ever been, but about his team he is not so sure: 'You live in hope that one day they'll turn in a performance you believe they're capable of, but I'm not sure it's the time to expect it in the first match of the championship.'

The manager's main hope is that Back's inclusion will allow England to cast off another factor - fear - that has tended to restrict their rugby. 'It can have a positive effect: you hate to lose, your pride is at stake. But it can also be very negative if you allow the fear factor to be so inhibiting that you don't do anything.'

Across the city the Scots were finishing up at Murrayfield - apparently content in the belief that one win would suffice. 'Any victory over England is eagerly anticipated by the whole nation,' Duncan Paterson, the Scotland manager, said. 'It would go a long way to alleviating some of the recent problems we have had.'

A bit like Wales beating England last year, I suppose. To believe it will happen is supremely optimistic; to believe it would have such an effect is supreme folly. Just ask the Welsh.

----------------------------------------------------------------- SCOTLAND v ENGLAND At Murrayfield ----------------------------------------------------------------- G Hastings. . . . Watsonians, capt 15 J Callard. . . . . Bath A Stanger. . . . . . . . . .Hawick 14 T Underwood . . . .Leicester S Hastings. . . . . . . Watsonians 13 W Carling. . . . .Harlequins, capt D Wyllie. . .Stewart's Melville FP 12 P de Glanville. . .Bath K Logan. . . . . . Stirling County 11 R Underwood. . . . Leicester G Townsend. . . . . . . . . . Gala 10 R Andrew. . . . . .Wasps G Armstrong. . . . . . .Jed-Forest 9 K Bracken. . . . . Bristol A Sharp. . . . . . . . . . Bristol 1 J Leonard. . . . . Harlequins K Milne. . . . . . . . Heriot's FP 2 B Moore. . . . . . Harlequins P Burnell. . . . . London Scottish 3 V Ubogu. . . . . . Bath S Munro. . Glasgow High/Kelvinside 4 M Johnson. . . . . Leicester A Reed. . . . . . . . . . . . Bath 5 M Bayfield. . . . .Northampton P Walton. . . . . . . .Northampton 6 J Hall. . . . . . .Bath G Weir. . . . . . . . . . .Melrose 8 B Clarke. . . . . .Bath R Wainwright. Edinburgh Academicals 7 N Back. . . . . . .Leicester ----------------------------------------------------------------- Replacements: 16 D Stark Replacements: 16 M Catt (Bath), (Boroughmuir), 17 I Jardine 17 S Barnes (Bath), 18 D Morris (Stirling County), 18 B Redpath (Orrell), 19 G Rowntree (Melrose), 19 I Smith (Gloucester), (Leicester), 20 G Dawe (Bath), 20 A Watt (Glasgow High/Kelvinside), 21 S Ojomoh (Bath). 21 K McKenzie (Stirling County). ----------------------------------------------------------------- Referee: L McLachlan (New Zealand). Kick-off: 2.30. TV: BBC1 and BBC Scotland. -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)