The pitch at Murrayfield may be a worm-infested mess – Edinburgh have shifted their next home match, against Ospreys at the end of the month, to the Boroughmuir club ground, thereby making the amusing move from "Maggotfield" to Meggetland – but England are planning to ensure that a dodgy playing surface is the least of Scotland's problems on Calcutta Cup day this weekend. Chris Robshaw, the red-rose captain, is still "seething" about his side's Six Nations defeat to France and is determined to make amends.
"We went close in Paris but our games are judged on results, not on performance," the Harlequins flanker said. "There will have to be a massive reaction. Plucky losers? No one wants to be called that. We don't want to play well and finish second every time. As far as this Six Nations tournament is concerned, we've left ourselves a lot of work to do. But we're all up for it. We'll need a little luck along the way if we're to win the title, but certain elements are still in our hands."
Robshaw has fond memories of Murrayfield, which is more than can be said for many of his predecessors in the red-rose pack, who frequently travelled north in the confident expectation of doing a proper job on the Scots but found themselves involved in the kind of dogfight rugby that makes a mockery of the pre-match odds. He marked his first outing as national captain with a narrow victory in the opening game of the 2012 competition and among his colleagues that day were international debutants in Brad Barritt, Owen Farrell, Lee Dickson and Ben Morgan, all of whom are in the squad for this return visit.
By common consent, England were not convincing winners on that occasion – not unusually, they found tryscoring in front of an antagonistic Scottish crowd just a little on the difficult side – but the captain believes he and his players are better equipped to deal with hometown malevolence than they were back then. "If you look at the character we have in the squad, everyone seems to step up in these arenas now," he remarked. "We've been in some pretty hostile environments together – Paris last week, Ellis Park in Johannesburg a couple of years ago – and we know what it's like to be in an us-against-them situation. When we look around at each other, knowing what we're capable of, it gives us strength."
Rugby orthodoxy suggests that England, keen to play what Robshaw calls an "all-court game" with what the head coach, Stuart Lancaster, brands a "two-sided attack", will have to rein themselves in on Saturday, thanks to the well-documented problems underfoot and a weather forecast that leaves something to be desired as far as those who crave the occasional flash of ambition are concerned. But with the playing surface in Paris some way short of billiard-table quality, Lancaster's men found the wherewithal to ask serious questions of the French with an attacking performance far more dynamic and cohesive than anticipated.
"We have to be able to mix it when it's wet and dirty," Robshaw conceded, "and we know we will face some adversity up there – that the game will be tough and attritional. But with clear heads, we can put ourselves in a position to play the game we want to play. And if we allow ourselves to get drawn into things, we'll just have to show some control. One of the best aspects of our performance in Paris was the 'no fear' attitude of people like Jack Nowell [the Exeter wing], who really took it to the big boys on his debut. He stayed hungry even after making a mistake, which is exactly what you want to see."
Meanwhile, the former Scotland and Lions outside-half Gregor Townsend, who helped coach the national side before taking over at Glasgow, has advised against any move to run the country's best attacking player, Stuart Hogg, in a position closer to the pack. The 21-year-old full-back was the pick of the Scots in last Sunday's disappointing defeat by Ireland in Dublin. Some believe he should now play in midfield, either as an outside centre or a No 10.
"He gets a lot of opportunities at full-back, so why would you want to change that?" Townsend argued in rejecting the argument. "You often see that full-backs are second only to outside-halves in the number of touches they have during a game, so I'm not sure you'd see him much more involved than he is now. It's just good to see him back in the jersey, looking fit and breaking through tackles. He's playing so well."
Sean Maitland will take no further part in the Six Nations after his right leg injury against Ireland was worse than expected. Maitland limped off in the first half with ankle damage and concussion.Reuse content