Brian Ashton: England should win but ignore Robbo factor at your peril

Tackling The Issues

So the scene is set, 12,000 miles away from Hadrian's Wall, for the oldest of rugby enemies to meet in the final game of what has become a very tight World Cup pool.

The permutations have been well chronicled: suffice to say that Scotland could totally derail England's campaign by winning this morning, while Martin Johnson's men could point Andy Robinson and his players in the direction of the departure lounge.

When the teams played last weekend, there could not have been a greater contrast in fortunes. England easily overran a second-string Romanian side to assume pole position in the group while Scotland had a nightmare that may keep them awake in the small hours for some time. They must have kicked themselves hard after losing to Argentina. They might also have kicked Dan Parks, their outside-half, over his bizarre choice of play at the end of the game. Whether or not Felipe Contepomi, the Puma captain, was offside at the vital moment as the Scots claimed, Parks should never have contemplated an off-balance, wrong-footed drop goal. Correct thinking it was not. What to do in this situation? Retain the ball, regroup and have another pop when the odds are back in your favour. Scotland did the opposite. Parks has some previous in this regard and I was surprised he was on the field at all, as Ruaridh Jackson seemed to be doing a pretty competent job.

Not all the blame falls on one man, however: Scotland created, then wasted, any number of opportunities, largely through the meandering nature of their attacks in the wider channels. And I haven't yet mentioned the blatant defensive errors that led to Lucas Amorosino's late try – the score that ultimately laid the ground for this morning's potentially titanic struggle.

Whatever may have happened last weekend, there is no such thing as an easy match for England against the men from north of the border. For any number of reasons – historic and current, public and personal – this is a game all those associated with Scotland will be desperate to win. Add the adrenaline kick of playing rugby at a World Cup to the nationalistic emotions running around the Scottish dressing room, and you have a potent mix. They will be fired up, for sure.

And then there is the Robbo dimension. Andy knows how these tournaments work, having tasted World Cup success in '03 when his "oppo" today, Martin Johnson, was skipper, and I know the pleasure he took in helping England reach the summit. He went on to succeed Clive Woodward as head coach – a job in which he took great pride. However, given the circumstances of his subsequent removal from the job by the Rugby Football Union, I can't imagine that his thoughts will be anywhere but with his own team this morning.

In all my time in the game, I can't remember encountering an individual who brought more passion to his rugby, either as a player or a coach. I was assistant to Jack Rowell when Andy was awarded the captaincy at Bath and, believe me, heading up that side was never an easy job. There were so many top players and so many big egos, yet what seemed from the outside to be a disparate group was fused together by a collective attitude that was highly professional and ambitious.

Andy was a pleasure to coach. Playing the way he did in the No 7 slot as our crucial link-man, he not only needed a wide-ranging understanding of the needs of forwards and backs alike but also had to develop a feel for the dynamic integrated game – a game in which he fully believed then and is trying to instil into the Scotland side now. However, there is also a pragmatic side to him, and this will manifest itself more in the Scotland performance today than it did against the Pumas. He does not suffer fools gladly. If I know Andy, he will be smarting from some things that happened last weekend and will be expecting some enhanced decision-making on this occasion.

The last two meetings between the sides have been close: a draw at Murrayfield a couple of Six Nations Championships ago and a narrow victory for England in this year's tournament. In both matches the Scots generated enormous pressure at the tackle area, either stealing possession or slowing down opposition ball sufficiently for the defenders to win the race to the gainline and ask the England midfield attack the kind of questions they have yet to answer in this competition. Scotland will set out to play with characteristic fury and tempo. If the weather is wet and the grass slippery, Robbo's men will bring their appetite for destruction to the party.

The task for England, therefore, is to control the tempo themselves. I'm not convinced they have enough belief, especially in a match of this nature, to attack from anywhere on the field, although when I remember Chris Ashton's wonderful try against Australia last November, I hope I'm wrong. As the Scots find it difficult to score from their own half, I expect England to play a game based around dominant field position, which will help them place the Scottish set-piece in a vice, and use strong defence to force their opponents to kick ball away or resort to the meandering brand of rugby that cost them dear against the Pumas. The Scots' kicking game has not been a forte of theirs in this tournament to date, so England's back three could have opportunities to return the ball with interest if they have the will to do so. I suspect England will be very direct in their early running: they will want to establish a rhythm and employ the appropriate number of players around the tackle area to generate quick ball. Ben Youngs will be a key figure in this at scrum-half.

Just as England must focus on the collision areas and mix up their approach in order to establish good positions, so the Scots will have to play much smarter in retaining and using possession in ways that will cause problems. And I should add this one rather obvious point: individual emotional control could play a significant role in the outcome if the scores remain close. No doubt players on both sides will set out to wind up certain opponents – in the nicest possible way, of course – but discipline will be so important.

I'm going with an England win: I think they have the better players and more often than not, this is the factor that makes the difference. I do not, however, dismiss lightly the Robbo influence. This could be his moment.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform