Rugby Union: Peters places the accent on discipline

Hugh Godwin talks to a No 8 with an inside line on his vaunted opponents
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The Independent Online
TRIUMPH AND disaster; Wales and Wasps. Eric Peters treated those twin impostors just the same last weekend and the Scotland and Bath No 8's equilibrium seems undisturbed either by the euphoria of the Five Nations win over Wales or the following day's drubbing for his club at Wasps. This week he turns his measured gaze on England, who have not lost anywhere to the Scots since 1990, and not at Twickenham since 1983.

It was Peters' try against Wasps on the first day of the season which set Bath up for a perfectly satisfactory start of seven wins in eight Premiership matches. Then came six straight defeats to sow hitherto unknown seeds of doubt at The Rec. A mini-recovery thereafter could not have prepared them for the 35-0 hammering at Loftus Road, the first time ever Bath had failed to score in a league match. Peters, back home from Murrayfield but rested from club duty, watched the embarrassment unfold on the BBC's newly restored Sunday afternoon television coverage, with his pet cats rather than his Kipling.

"It was a particularly disappointing result," he conceded. "We lost some confidence in that losing patch which I felt we'd regained in the games leading up to Sunday. The spells of home and away matches had affected us and we have been blooding some new talent. It will take time to get back the consistency of performance that the old Bath had."

Glasgow-born to Scottish parents, but schooled in England, Peters played for Saracens before moving to Bath in 1993. He rolled off the same back row production line as Dean Ryan, Ben Clarke, Tony Diprose and Richard Hill and, almost six years on, he will know his Twickenham foes inside out, and vice versa. "The Scotland forwards, and the back row in particular, have to match the English. We are away from home and England will certainly be favourites. But you never go into a game thinking of damage limitation. That's a very negative way of looking at things, and I don't think the Scottish players ever do that."

Mention negativity to a Scotsman in a Calcutta Cup context and, pound to a penny, two words will spout forth. Dean Richards. At Murrayfield in 1996, Richards was recalled to English colours and Peters was in the Scotland side who seemed powerless to prevent the old bear squeezing the life out of them. "England didn't score a try, but they pressured us down into our half which was quite frustrating. When I first came into the Scotland team in 1995 and 1996 the only team we lost to in the Five Nations was England. They have been our bogey side throughout the Nineties and we need to reverse that drift."

The bookmakers, ignoring Scotland's more impressive recent history in the Championship, tipped Wales to kick off the 1999 edition with a win. Scotland, with Peters' ball- carrying and tackling skills to the fore, defied the odds. "We knew the importance of stopping their big guys running," said Peters, "and we were all very keen to get out there and make those hits. Wales missed Dai Young, who normally anchors their scrum and that gave us a little more dominance in the front row, which influences how they are picking the ball up at the back.

"Once Scott Quinnell gets going he makes big dents. The secret is stopping him on or before the gain line. Wales were trying to do this quick line- out, but they weren't getting tremendous ball off it and after the first couple I thought they would have varied it a bit more. We were stopping the likes of Quinnell and Scott Gibbs early and that limited what damage they were doing. I did expect them to change tactics at that point."

Cheek by jowl with Peters is the new boy on the flank, Martin Leslie, one of the four so-called kilted Kiwis assimilated into Scottish ranks in recent months.

"They are modest, unassuming people," said Peters. "They have worked hard for the common goal and the experience they have brought with them has been of benefit to the players round them. There is a very good spirit in the side at the moment. We have a lot of young players, not necessarily a lot of stars, and they are developing and very keen to wear the jersey. We kept the penalty count low against Wales, and generally it was a disciplined performance."

The call will be "more of the same" when the proud Scot with the English accent attempts to storm HQ.

Where the Calcutta Cup will be won and lost: Mark Evans, Saracens director of rugby, probes the strengths and weaknesses

ENGLAND

Coaching

Clive Woodward is not afraid to experiment but can go somewhat awry in his selection policy. An overlarge management team has been slimmed down, which might lead to an improved focus. It will be interesting to see whether the tactics against South Africa will be sustained or amended

Decision-making

No problem until you get to outside-half. If Catt plays, expect to see Dallaglio attempt to wield a lot of influence. Intelligent options and communication of De Glanville will be missed

Scrummage

Competent enough front row, though Garforth has struggled in league recently. Second row will send through a lot of power, but unlikely to dominate

Line-out

Lots of options here: Dallaglio will win lots of ball at the tail to launch attacks around the back of the line-out or the inside-backs across the gain line. If they dominate here they can dictate the tempo of the game and control field position

Back row

Selection again an issue, but only because of embarrassment of riches. Whoever plays, an area of great strength with pace, power and footballing ability in abundance. Defensively sound and well-organised with significant big-hitting ability

Running game

Guscott and Luger are main threats along with either Dawson or Bracken (both strong) at scrum-half. Main problem is lack of genuine strike runner at full-back and real creativity in inside backs. Will rely on back five forwards running up a lot of ball

Kicking game

If Bracken and Grayson play this will be strong offensively - less so if Dawson and/or Catt are chosen. Back three vulnerable in defence as they prefer to run and can be pressured into poor tactical kicking

Achilles heel

Getting caught between need to win and desire to perform well

SCOTLAND

Coaching

Jim Telfer is vastly experienced and will have left his troops in absolutely no doubt as to what is required. Expect to see the emphasis on high pace, quick ball and a series of mini-rucks interspersed with a few box-kicks and pick and drives

Decision-making

Game-plan is simple and decision-making limited. Key man is Peters, who might have to make a series of fine judgements over the use of slow scrummage ball. Watch also if John Leslie has a steadying influence on Townsend's decision-making

Scrummage

Under-rated front row with Smith and Bulloch both very promising, but distinct weakness at tight-head and Weir will be missed. Still strong enough to be able to stop England getting a dominant left or right shoulder. Will concentrate on moving own ball quickly

Line-out

Will rely a great deal on the athletic ability of Murray but Grimes and Peters provide good back-up. Doubts as to whether they will be able to generate enough drive once they have secured the ball. Will probably mix up quick ball off the top with more controlled play

Back row

Played very well against Wales but may be less effective against more physical opponents. Although good in a loose game, may be tied up defending close to the ruck and maul. Will do well to emerge with honours even in their personal duels

Running game

Townsend always a threat along with the elusive Logan. If fit, Mayer would provide a different option but don't underestimate Leslie - he can run very good angles and is not just a set-up player. Armstrong remains real threat around the fringes

Kicking game

Will rely a good deal on Armstrong - particularly if Townsend plays at stand-off. Fortunate in that Leslie, in traditional New Zealand second five-eighth role, has good kicking game. Back three look sound

Achilles heel

Being out-muscled

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