The Scots, threatened with a nasty dose of Six Nations humiliation after three consecutive defeats, are talking hopefully of divine intervention ahead of their Calcutta Cup meeting with England, although the divinity concerned is most unlikely to compromise his dearly-held belief in the principle of fair play by influencing events from on high. Yet the late Bill McLaren, the much-loved commentator whose memory was celebrated by multitudes of rugby folk at Murrayfield last night, might indeed play a role of sorts. His grandson, the scrum-half Rory Lawson, will be on the bench tomorrow.
Lawson was all too aware of the emotional charge pulsing through the capital city yesterday. "The celebration event for 'Papa' will perhaps act as a springboard into the game for a lot of the rugby public," he said. "I hope it builds into a special weekend."
When it comes to the oldest international rivalry in the sport, one team's special weekend is the other team's weekend from hell. When England lost here two years ago, they complained bitterly about what they considered the overtly triumphalist tone of the after-match banquet: indeed, the current captain Steve Borthwick, who played in the second row that day under the leadership of Phil Vickery, was subsequently driven to talk about "things I won't forget in a hurry".
Borthwick was deeply reluctant to revisit the subject yesterday. "Those things are in the past," he said. "This match will clearly be played at a very high level of intensity, but the teams have changed, the coaches of both sides have changed and times have changed. I'm thinking about this game, and this game only."
It is, however, definitely the case that England enjoy the Edinburgh experience in the way they enjoy those other Celtic experiences in Cardiff and Dublin, which is to say: not at all. When they lost here in 2000, Clive Woodward left town in an impenetrable fog of anger and accusation. When Andy Robinson's side went down by the same six-point margin – why is it always by six points? – a couple of years later, the fall-out accounted for the lion's share of the coaching team who had tasted World Cup glory in 2003. When Brian Ashton's team came up short by the traditional margin in 2008, it set in train the events that would ultimately engulf him.
Generally speaking, England players are big and ugly enough to look after themselves wherever in the world they might happen to be, but there is something about the Scottish welcome that unnerves them, especially when the hosts dictate the terms of the psychological engagement. While Borthwick, resolutely on-message as ever, was talking about his team's "continual striving to improve", Lawson was using tougher, edgier language. "Enough is enough," said the Gloucester half-back, who will understudy the captain Chris Cusiter. "It's no good being a good loser, so the feeling amongst us is that we have something to prove. There is a focus on being a little more ruthless and taking games away from our opponents."
There has been no more ruthless aspect of Scottish rugby down the years than their loose forward operation and in the Glasgow open-side flanker John Barclay, the current side will field an individual blessed with the attributes an elephantine English pack least want to see. Borthwick admitted that the shortage of quick possession from the breakdown had become something of a sore point – "That area is certainly a challenge for us at the moment and we're putting a tremendous amount of work into getting it sorted," he said – and the coaching team, forced into a personnel change as a result of Ireland's domination of the tackle area last time out, are acutely aware of the danger posed by a ball-pilfering breakaway as energetic as Barclay.
France, heading serenely towards a fifth title in nine years and developing the sheen of potential Grand Slammers, have no such problems in the loose: after all, they have players as hot as Thierry Dusautoir, Imanol Harinordoquy, Julien Bonnaire and Fulgen Ouedraogo at their disposal. The Tricolores are, however, itching to inject a little more pizzazz into a ball-in-hand game that is already a dozen times more exciting than England's.
Emile Ntamack, their attack coach, believes Sunday's meeting with Italy in Paris is as good a place as any to start. "It is his strong wish that we should play more, be less restrictive," said the stand-off Francois Trinh-Duc. "During the second half against Wales in Cardiff, we satisfied ourselves with kicking instead of counter-attacking. We mustn't look down on the Italians by running the ball just for the sake of it, but there will be more opportunities if we move them around and play more on the wings."Reuse content