Lawson out to end 28 years of hurt
This is a landmark weekend for Rory Lawson. The impressive individual who lines up at scrum-half this afternoon in a Scotland side seeking the country's first win at Twickenham since 1983 turned 30 yesterday.
"Is it daunting to me?" he said, pondering his membership of the Thirtysomething brigade rather than the size of the challenge facing Scotland. "No, not really. I think I'm playing as well as I've ever done in my career." Tongue wedged firmly in cheek, Lawson added: "Obviously I look considerably younger than I am. And I feel that way as well... Just stick 24 down on the programme and it'll be fine."
There will be a 25 next to Lawson's name in the Twickenham programme. The affable, articulate Gloucester player reached the quarter-century mark on the cap front when he replaced Mike Blair off the bench in Scotland's 21-18 defeat against Ireland at Murrayfield a fortnight ago.
It is a sign that his form has indeed matured with age that Lawson has been restored to starting duty as Andy Robinson's side seek to turn back the tide of history at Twickenham, and also get a first win on the board in this Six Nations. For most of his international career, Lawson has been stuck in a Harry Lime role – as the Third Man, behind Blair and Chris Cusiter, in line for the No9 shirt. Sixteen of his first 17 appearances were as a replacement, but of Scotland's last eight matches he has started six (he was unavailable for one because of injury).
With Blair on the bench and Cusiter also waiting in the wings, recovering from knee surgery, Lawson cannot say that he has finally nailed down the Scotland scrum-half jersey. Having played a pivotal role in wins against Australia and South Africa in the past 15 months, though – in the latter case as captain – it is fair to say that Lawson has finally succeeded in making a name for himself in his own right.
It has not been easy, proud though he is that his beloved maternal grandfather happened to be the late, great Bill McLaren – and that his father, Alan Lawson, is a former Scotland scrum-half, capped 15 times between 1972 and 1980. McLaren died in January last year, aged 86, but Rory can still hear the genial Voice of Rugby in his head. "In many ways, I play as if he's still commentating on me," he said. "That's in my mind when I'm on the pitch and it spurs me on."
It would be intriguing to imagine the commentary if Rory managed to cross the whitewash at Twickenham today. He has yet to score a try for Scotland. His father famously bagged a brace in a 22-12 win against England at Murrayfield in 1976, leaving McLaren struggling to keep his emotions in check behind the BBC television microphone.
It was at Twickenham in 2007 that Lawson junior made his Six Nations debut, coming off the bench in a 42-20 defeat. He was a week short of his second birthday when Scotland last won there, a 22-12 success on 5 March 1983.
"It's something we're certainly aware of," he said of the 28 years of Caledonian hurt. "Records are there to be broken. We've got to go down there with a belief that we can put in a performance that can get us a win. Anything other than an exceptional performance won't be good enough.
"If you look at the last three games we've played against England at home, we've drawn one and won the other two, so a number of the guys have experience of beating England. The focus has got to be on taking that away from Murrayfield and down to Twickenham.
"The frustration within the camp is that we've not shown what we're about so far in this campaign. Across the last 12 months we've built up a lot of expectation – both from the public and ourselves – and we've not met that in our performances. We don't feel that other teams have had to be on top of their game to beat us. As a team, we've got to come off the field saying, 'We've chucked everything at that'."
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