According to Stuart Barnes, Scotland have a chance of derailing the England Grand Slam chariot on Sunday – but only if they intercept the bus carrying the home team to Twickenham and "jack it up and take off the wheels". Andy Robinson, his former Bath team-mate, would beg to disagree.
Having tinkered with his stuttering side yesterday, the Scotland head coach fully intends to throw a spanner in the works of the red-rose machine when he returns to Twickenham on professional duty for the first time since he was forced out of the England driving seat in November 2006. To that end, in addition to making four changes to the Caledonian XV beaten 21-18 by Ireland a fortnight ago (recalling Simon Danielli on the right wing, Joe Ansbro at outside-centre, Rory Lawson at scrum-half and installing Nathan Hines on the blindside flank in a reshuffled back row), Robinson took the opportunity at his team announcement yesterday of lobbing a loose bolt in the direction of the England front row and the French referee.
It remains to be seen whether the West Countryman who was responsible for whipping the English pack of 2003 into Grand Slam (and World Cup) winning shape will succeed in unsettling Dylan Hartley in his linchpin role as hooker, and in influencing Romain Poite in his policing of matters at the coal-face. Warren Gatland, Wales' head coach, did not exactly undermine Hartley when he chose to label the Northampton captain as "a choker" ahead of the Six Nations opener in Cardiff. Quite the opposite.
Still, after Scotland's struggle to get a grip at scrum-time in their defeats against France and Wales, and following their travails with the officiating of Nigel Owens in the loss to Ireland, it was worth Robinson having a crack at it, albeit in altogether subtler fashion than Gatland. "Romain Poite is a very good referee and technically good at scrum-time," the former England head coach said, employing disguised top-spin. "The England scrum is very good and wants to scrum square. What we don't want to happen is these scrums getting stood up. I believe at times that Hartley does that.
"He will push the scrum up to milk the penalties or play on the referee's interpretation that it's the defending side going backwards when, at times, that's not the case." So might Mr Robinson take the opportunity to give Monsieur Poite a little pre-match reminder? "Oh yes," he replied.
Between now and Sunday, Robinson himself will need no reminding of his England past – as a player, assistant coach and head coach. He was, in fact, a playing member of the last England team to fail to beat Scotland at home, in the 12-12 draw of 1989.
The Scots have not won at Twickenham since 1983, when John Beattie was at No 8. His son, Johnnie, short of his best after shoulder surgery, has been jettisoned from the squad but Ruaridh Jackson gets a second chance as Scotland's starting fly-half.Reuse content