Scotland need to make a statement at Twickenham today about their under-performance in this year’s Guinness Six Nations, their poor away form AND their dreadful record at English rugby’s HQ, agreed skipper Stuart McInally.
Quite apart from the 36 years since Scotland last won at Twickenham, the more recent malaise of struggling to win away in the championship – the Scots have not won a 6 Nations game outside Murrayfield or Rome since 2010 – and the underwhelming nature of this year’s campaign need to be righted, said the hooker, who will be playing at Twickenham for the first time.
And that will demand a strong start against an England team who have made a habit of making such big statements themselves, scoring tries within the first few minutes of their matches against Ireland, France and Italy this season to set the tone.
“I think we do (need a statement),” said McInally. “We are due ourselves and the whole of Scotland a strong performance tomorrow.
“We are going to come down here, be physical, fight for everything and we will see if that is good enough tomorrow.
“I agree we have under-performed this year and we are desperate to put a good performance in to close this Six Nations.”
The first 20 minutes, keeping England off the scoreboard as much as possible and building confidence for themselves, was particularly crucial, especially since that had also been the plan in Paris three weeks ago and it simply hadn’t been enacted.
“The best way to start well is through our defence,” continued McInally. “We are expecting them to run with the ball and kick a lot tomorrow. We expect to have to tackle and defend a lot. That is a good way for us to assert ourselves on the game.
“Starting well is mainly round defence. You tend to know straight away if you are there or not, in terms of the mind-set and how physical you are on the day.”
The Scots do believe they can win this game, no matter how negative anyone else is about their chances, added the captain.
“Of course we think we can win,” he said. “I have no idea what England are going to do, but what I do know is that you will see a group of players doing all they possibly can to win.
“We are aware of and excited by the challenge, but we believe we can win. Whatever they bring tomorrow we will be looking to match it and we will go from there.
“There is a little bit extra motivation (because of Scotland’s Twickenham record) As Grant Gilchrist said earlier in the week you don’t need any extra motivation to play for Scotland, but of course to be the first team to win here for so long would be nice.”
Scotland’s difficulties away from home in the 6 Nations are well-documented and it’s something the team have struggled to quantify themselves.
“Teams generally play better at home as we know,” said McInally. “But it is something we need to work hard on because we have a Rugby World Cup coming up and we are desperate to go to Japan and do well.”
Scotland’s idea has been to try to make nothing different in preparation when they play at Murrayfield or away from it, but assistant coach Danny Wilson agreed there was a definite need to take “the sting” out of a home crowd for any away team.
“Any team coming to your home ground tries to start well, take the sting out of the crowd, take the sting out of your enthusiasm of playing at home,” he pointed out.
“We need to flip that on its head when we’re the away team, trying to come out of the blocks and hopefully you take away the advantage of having the crowd behind them, the atmosphere getting behind England.
“England have started games really well and, being absolutely honest and open, we have to start away games very well, play the right tactical game and be physical in the first 20 minutes.
“If you can do that, the home advantage starts to get nullified. That has to be our start point for away games.”
England head coach Eddie Jones, on the other hand, thinks home advantage has an influence on officials, and he’s expecting the same this week.
“What is it, 1883?” he joked about Scotland’s losing record at Twickenham.“It’s because the referee gets influenced, there’s no doubt about it,” said Jones. “The referee’s such a crucial component in the game of rugby.
“They’re human beings and they get influenced by the environment. The support of your fans is also definitely a massive factor.
“We’ve got a great Twickenham crowd. That’s going to help us on Saturday in those tough moments. The players might not hear it but they feel that positivity. We’re looking forward to playing in front of our home crowd.”