It will be quite a meeting of minds. Martin Johnson, manager of England, and Andy Robinson, coach of Scotland, have been either pulling for each other or pushing against each other for a full two decades now – they fought hammer and tongs during their playing days with Leicester and Bath respectively before Robinson helped coach Johnson to World Cup glory in 2003 – so when the two men take up the Calcutta Cup cudgels at Twickenham nine days from now, the contest will have a whole history attached to it.
Mike Tindall, the England captain for as long as Lewis Moody's dodgy knee keeps playing up, shone a fascinating sidelight on both men yesterday. The Gloucester centre was as good a guide as any: he was coached by Robinson at Bath and England, and played many a Test alongside Johnson before being managed by him.
Did he expect Robinson, suddenly struggling for results after an encouraging 2010 campaign, to head south with fire in his belly? Daft question. "You know his mindset," the midfielder said. "With Andy, it's always about physicality first. But he's a thinking man and he won't be happy with how things have gone in this Six Nations, especially after the win over South Africa in the autumn. If he could bring Scotland down here and upset us, it would be a massive deal for him. He's excellent at spotting opposition weaknesses, things he can exploit."
Yet Robinson, a live contender for the plum role of Lions head coach in Australia in a little over two years' time, will find himself up against an England back-room staff infinitely more assured and decisive than they were at this point last year, when the two sides scrummaged each other – and, indeed, the paying public – to a slow, lingering death in the drawn game at Murrayfield.
"We had confidence in Martin right from the start, even if the media didn't," Tindall continued. "Obviously, recent results mean he can be a little more laid back, but he's now showing more of his 'Martin Johnson side' – the side you saw in the changing rooms when he was playing. This is what the boys want to see, that fiery side. Every time we go out for a game, he looks as though he wants to go out there with us.
"It was tough when Martin and Brian Smith [the attack coach appointed by Johnson in 2008] first came in, but you have to give people time to develop. It's been a building process, and the coaches and players are starting to trust it and react to it. People talk about the France game last year being a turning point, but this has been in motion for two or three years now. It's just taken longer than we'd hoped."
Tindall's clubmate, the prop Paul Doran-Jones, was yesterday released for this weekend's West Country derby with Bath at Kingsholm, as was the Bath wing Matt Banahan. Quite what use they will be, having missed virtually all the game-specific preparation, remains to be seen, but at least they will be available if needed.
Another of Tindall's old playmates, the World Cup-winning wing Ben Cohen, says he is no longer needed by Sale and will consider retirement if he fails to find Premiership employment next season. "Sale are trying to spend more money on the pack," said the 32-year-old. "I have another couple of years left in me, so I'll try to find another club. I'm a bit gutted that I've been given the push – I've been playing week in, week out – but that's life."Reuse content