Johnson's can of worms baits hook for Scotland

England manager says Saturday's visitors will arrive with 'chips on their shoulders'
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The Independent Online

Martin Johnson yesterday named an unchanged England team for this weekend's Six Nations with Scotland at Twickenham, which made quite a change. The last time a red-rose leader resisted the urge to fiddle around with selection, the 2007 World Cup was still unfolding in its weird and wonderful way. Some things in rugby never change at all, however: most notably, the mutual antipathy between the countries who compete for the most ancient trophy in the sport.

"The Scots will come down here as underdogs, and that chip on their shoulder will make them very difficult to beat," Johnson remarked in announcing a Calcutta Cup side including both of his injury-threatened players, the outside-half Toby Flood and the open-side flanker Joe Worsley. That single throwaway comment kept boomeranging its way back to the manager, who, try as he might, could not shake himself free of the subject.

"I wouldn't want to rank chippiness at this point," he continued, a trifle uncomfortably, when asked whether he felt his team received more hostility from the Scots than from any other of the many rugby nations who take great delight in sticking it to England. "Warren Gatland [the Wales coach] apparently said the Welsh disliked Ireland the most. That's news to me." Then, he started backtracking. "I just think the Scots will be happy that we played well in our last match, on the basis that the result might make us complacent," he ventured. "We have to deal with the mental side of coming off a big win."

Johnson knew he had opened a can of worms and was desperately seeking a way of replacing the lid when Graham Rowntree, his old Leicester mucker, rode to his rescue. "We face equal hostility everywhere we go," pronounced the scrummaging technician. "Representing England is like playing for Leicester when we were winning everything: it's us against the whole world. We love it. It's what makes you a Test player, dealing with that pressure. It's what you miss when you retire."

As Steve Borthwick, the captain, made abundantly clear earlier in the week, some players miss this particular form of grief more than others. Borthwick was profoundly put out by the Scots' manner in victory after last year's Calcutta Cup match in Edinburgh – "There are things that happened up there that I won't forget," he said, darkly – and now Johnson has uttered the words "chip" and "shoulder" in such close proximity, it will be surprising indeed if Saturday's encounter at Twickenham passes off without a flashpoint or two.

Rowntree certainly expects a hard contest. He believes the Scottish scrum to be as good as any currently operating in the European game and better than most. At the same time, he is seeking a sharp upturn in performance from his own charges. Even though Andrew Sheridan, the outsized loose-head prop from Sale, turned in his best international display for months in helping England to a 24-point victory over the French, the coach is far from satisfied with the state of play at the sharp end.

"I hate it – I get embarrassed – when I see scrums hitting the deck, and there was a lot of that against France," he said. "I think we're coming along nicely, but there were nine penalties and free-kicks at the set-piece last weekend and we want to be squeaky clean. This is a good test for us, because this Scottish unit is big, aggressive and extremely capable. I don't see a weakness with them."

Flood, who played well enough against Les Bleus but damaged his right shoulder in the final attack of the first half and did not reappear after the interval, took a limited part in training yesterday and was confident of making a complete recovery in time for this final game of the tournament. Worsley, struggling with a badly gashed thumb, took next to no part in proceedings. Tom Rees of Wasps, just back from injury himself, remains on standby.

Scotland, meanwhile, announced that their own injury worries had eased to a significant degree. Mike Blair, their scrum-half and captain, failed to go the distance against Ireland five days ago after suffering a back injury, but he was declared fit for the game yesterday and was duly named in the starting line-up. So too were the wing Thom Evans and the flanker Alasdair Strokosch, who also finished the worse for wear.

Frank Hadden, the beleaguered head coach, made only one change to his starting line-up, selecting the Northampton flanker Scott Gray ahead of John Barclay, who cannot even make the replacements' roster, thanks to the promotion of his Glasgow colleague Kelly Brown. Gray won his first cap as long ago as 2004, but has since been restricted to half a dozen appearances off the bench.

Calcutta Cup: Twickenham teams


D Armitage (L Irish) 15

U Monye (H'quins) 14

M Tindall (Gloucs) 13

R Flutey (Wasps) 12

M Cueto (Sale) 11

T Flood (Leicester) 10

H Ellis (Leicester) 9

A Sheridan (Sale) 1

L Mears (Bath) 2

P Vickery (Wasps) 3

S Shaw (Wasps) 4

S Borthwick (S'ns, cpt) 5

T Croft (Leicester) 6

J Worsley (Wasps) 7

N Easter (H'quins) 8


D Hartley (Northampton), J White (Leicester), J Haskell (Wasps), N Kennedy (London Irish), D Care (Harlequins), A Goode (Brive), M Tait (Sale).


C Paterson (Edinb') 15

S Danielli (Ulster) 14

M Evans (Glasgow) 13

G Morrison (Glas') 12

T Evans (Glasgow) 11

P Godman (Edinb') 10

M Blair (Edinb', cpt) 9

A Dickinson (Gloucs) 1

R Ford (Edinburgh) 2

E Murray (N'thmptn) 3

J White (Sale) 4

J Hamilton (Edinb') 5

A Strokosch (Gloucs)6

S Gray (N'thampton) 7

S Taylor (Stade F') 8


D Hall (Glasgow), M Low (Glasgow), N Hines (Perpignan), K Brown (Glasgow), C Cusiter (Perpignan), N De Luca (Edinburgh), H Southwell (Edinburgh).

Referee: M Jonker (SA)

Kick-off: Saturday 3.30

Television: BBC 1