Alasdair Dickinson’s first Calcutta Cup game was Scotland’s last win over England, and eight years on the veteran prop thinks the Scottish public’s expectation and impatience for another victory is wholly justified.
The Dundonian and front-row colleague Ross Ford are the only survivors on either squad from that day in 15-9 victory in March 2008 Sean Lamont was injured at the time – and it was the 32-year-old’s debut in the fixture.
“I was fairly young and it was great to be part of it, it made me realise pretty quickly what an aura the Calcutta Cup has,” he recalled, having come off the bench just a few months after making his Scotland debut in the previous autumn’s World Cup against New Zealand.
“No doubt, since then it has been pretty poor. We don’t have a great track record over the last few years.”
But the prop accepts the general view that it’s high time to put that right.
“We performed reasonably well in the World Cup and since then there have been massive changes for England; obviously sometimes a change can do a team the world of good, but we’re concentrating on building on our performances at the World Cup,” he added.
“The public expect more from us now and rightly so, we have not performed well enough in the last few Six Nations.
“One great thing about the World Cup is that the support really got behind the team. We played with vision, we were exciting to watch and stirred up the positivity within the Scottish public.
“There’s going to be expectation, and certainly we can’t do any worse than last year. We have to set ourselves high standards, as players we want to do and the nation justice and we can’t wait to get started.”
But there’s scope to match the expectation, believes Dickinson, as the Scottish camp didn’t exactly share in the widespread love-fest after the World Cup and their heartbreaking and controversial quarter-final loss to Australia.
“We’re not happy with what happened, just because people are applauding us does not mean we are happy,” he said. “We performed well at times but that came after the knock-on effect of the disappointing and frustrating Six Nations last year.
“We can confidence from some of the things but we have to move forward now. We will go in confident but not arrogant, the English guys are going to be strong, they have a great talent pool of players and they will come right at us scrum time.
“They have a point to prove and a wounded animal is pretty dangerous. They are going to come at us all guns blazing and we have to be able to weather that.”
Still, the all Edinburgh front row of Dickinson, Ford and Nel has become a foundation for Scotland that they can rely on, with Dickinson enjoying the best form of his decade-long career at the top level.
“I am enjoying my rugby and it does help that I play with Ross and WP at club level so not that many new things are knocking around when you come into camp,” he admitted.
“But we’re always looking at ways to get better, if you think you have made it someone will shoot you down pretty quick so I take nothing for granted.
“It’s a lot of things now. Maybe the rules have changed a bit, things have changed technique-wise, maybe I have just got better, I am older, wiser and stronger.
“Experience is such a massive thing when it comes to front row.”
Which makes it all the more surprising that 20-year-old Zander Fagerson has entered the Scottish front row union for the first time for this championship.
“Fair play to him, he has done well and he deserves to be here,” continued Dickinson. “He is a good kid who wants to be involved, works hard and is passionate.
“He wants to learn, is the biggest thing he listens to the guys around him. WP has a lot of experience, and if Zander listens to what he says then he is going to go far. He’s got a great future as has Suzz (Rory Sutherland) these kids have great attitude and will go far.
“At their stage it is just trying to get as much out of us old farts as they can. These boys are going to come through and really shine for Scotland, but they’re still just learning.”
There’s an element of the unexpected in England under new coach Eddie Jones, but Dickinson doesn’t expect them to venture too far from their traditional strengths.
“They have got high motivation; new coach, the country expects a lot from them and they will be desperate to prove themselves after a poor World Cup,” he added.
“The set piece is massive, especially against England. Getting our scrum right and line out right and that lays a good platform for the backs to do their job and give us a massive foothold in the game.
“They will be coming at us to disrupt us but we have to be able to sort that problem and produce quality ball. There’s going to be no hiding place.”