"So here we go again, down to Twickenham..." The opening line to Chris Paterson, as he settles into a chair in one of Murrayfield's North Stand suites, is delivered with the kind of resigned air that might be put to the condemned man after his final meal.
Not many Scotland teams have escaped the noose at England's headquarters in south-west London, as Paterson knows too well. The Borderer, who lines up at full-back against England on Sunday, is Scotland's most capped player, with 102 appearances in 12 seasons of international rugby. He has never won at Twickenham. Never come even close.
The 26-12 reverse two years ago was the narrowest margin of defeat the 32-year-old has experienced there – the first time in five visits he had been part of a Scotland team who shipped fewer than 40 points. "The history tells you how difficult it is to win there," he says. It does that.
It was on 18 March 1911 that Scotland first made their way to Twickenham – "Billy Williams' cabbage patch," as it was known. They did so with some difficulty. "We couldn't find where the entrance was," the prop Charlie Stuart later recalled. "We had to walk through some allotments to get to it."
The Scots had just about found their bearings on the pitch when centre George Cunningham had his shorts ripped from his backside as he raced for the line in the dying minutes. Rather than have his modesty exposed to the crowd, he sat down on the turf and Scotland's chance of snatching a draw had gone. They were beaten 13-8. A tradition of Caledonian grief at red-rose HQ had been established.
In close to a century, Scotland have won just four times at Twickenham: in 1926, 1938, 1971 and 1983. That makes just the two successes in 73 years, and none in the last 28. Paterson's late uncle, scrum-half Duncy Paterson, scored a try in the second but last success, the 16-15 triumph of 1971. Chris was three weeks short of his fifth birthday when Jim Aitken captained Scotland to their most recent Twickenham win, 22-12 on 5 March 1983.
"You can't change what happened in the past," Paterson reflects, "but we can have an impact on what happens this year. We will have to be at our best to win. England are playing as well as they have for a long time. They're on form – three wins from three – and we're the opposite.
"We are underdogs but in international rugby anybody can beat anybody. That is backed up by some of our results – mostly at home, but away in Ireland last year and in Argentina too."
It will help the Scots on their historic mission that their full-back has got back into the international groove after the career-threatening kidney injury he suffered on the occasion of his 100th cap, against Wales in Cardiff 13 months ago. In the 21-18 defeat against Ireland a fortnight ago Paterson landed three penalties out of three. His only place-kicking miss in the last four seasons of the Six Nations came after he had been clattered and was in a state of disorientation in that Wales game last year.
For Scotland to have any realistic hope of overturning the odds at Twickenham, though, they will surely need to cross the opposition whitewash – something they have failed to do in four of their last six matches, and which Paterson has not managed since a World Cup pool match against Romania in 2007. For 24 matches he has been stuck on 22 tries, two short of the Scottish record tally held jointly by Ian Smith and Tony Stanger.Reuse content