Six Nations 2016: Alasdair Dickinson steels Scotland for England clash
|Six Nations: Scotland v England|
|Date: Saturday, February 6 Venue: Murrayfield Stadium Kick-off: 16:50 GMT|
|Coverage: Live on BBC One, BBC Radio Five Live, BBC Radio Scotland and BBC Sport website|
Alasdair Dickinson says he was young back then, a pup of 24, still making his way as a loose-head prop.
He had just one cap to his name before that first experience of the Calcutta Cup, that war in the wet at Murrayfield on March 8, 2008. He smiles at the memory. Dank day, nervous excitement, called from the bench 16 minutes from time with the game in the balance.
"Who did I come on for?" he asks, searching the recesses of his brain. "Was it Chunk? It must have been Chunk." It was, indeed, Chunk. Or Allan Jacobsen to give him his proper name.
"It was all kicks, wasn't it? Chris Paterson, Dan Parks, Jonny Wilkinson - 15-9 to us. An all-time classic. I actually remember very little about that game. I know the weather was awful and it was a grind all day, but the thing that's stayed with me is the feeling of being out there with players I'd watched on television.
"I know I was humbled by that. I didn't think then that eight years later I'd still have only one win against them. That didn't dawn on me."
That's the reality. He didn't play in all those games since - five losses and a draw in the Six Nations and another loss at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand - but he played in enough of them. Too many, in a sense.
'I'm too stupid to start thinking about smart one-liners'
And so Dickinson is your man for keeping all the hope around a youngish and promising Scotland side real. He's a 32-year-old veteran and a respected voice. Four years at Gloucester, two at Sale and, most lately, another two on top with Edinburgh - with 52 Test caps, Dickinson's been around.
These recent seasons have been the best of his career. He has ousted Ryan Grant from the international scene and is part of a Scotland front-row that excites. Vern Cotter has more of a poker face than Amarillo Slim, but a trace of a smile can occasionally be seen when the subject of his improving scrum is raised.
Nobody is saying it's a juggernaut force, but it's more capable than it has been for years. Dickinson agrees, but this is no dreamer we're talking to, this is not a man given to outlandish talk of new dawns and imminent glory.
"It's not a surprise to hear Eddie Jones talking about going back to traditional England values," says Dickinson. "He's talking about having a massive pack, a rock solid set-piece. I imagine it'll be (Mako) Vunipola, (Dylan) Hartley and (Dan) Cole in the front-row against us and those boys are playing well.
"They're going to come at us in the set-piece. They have a quality pack and there's no denying it. We have to be able to deal with it. That's just the way it is.
"I played against Hartley when I was down in England. He's had a bad press over the years but my experience of him is of a hard player and a good player. I have nothing against him. We get asked whether we'll try to wind him up but I'm not really a cheap-chat type guy. I'm too stupid to start thinking about smart one-liners.
"I try to keep it as simple as possible. That's why I'm a prop. If I had any brains I'd be doing something else."
The chariot approaches
Dickinson is razor sharp, have no worries about that. He's also prepared for what's coming on Saturday.
"They'll arrive here with no fear," he cautions. "Eddie is making us out as favourites, but I've no idea what's going through his head or what game he's trying to play. There's a lot of expectation on England as well. If he wants to make us favourites, fine, we'll take it. It doesn't really mean anything, but we'll take it."
After the near-miss against Australia in the World Cup quarter-final, Scottish rugby people are between two worlds: the happy-clappy one that sees Scotland getting off to a flier against England and feeding off the momentum to trouble other big guns and then there is the real world where the likes of Dickinson hang out.
"People keep praising us for the World Cup but we didn't make the semi-final, that's the bottom line," he says. "For us, the quarter-final was the bare minimum. Fair enough, we got a dodgy decision (against Australia), but if we'd caught the lineout we could have won.
"That was heartbreaking and it's still pretty raw. I don't like to talk about it much. I haven't watched it yet. I will, but not for a while. Sport is cruel, isn't it?
'I made my wife miserable'
"After the World Cup I just went home for a week and didn't talk to anyone. I made my wife miserable. We'll take that loss with us to the grave, but we learned a lot of lessons from that game. Don't do anything silly, do the basics well. That's a huge lesson to learn. A tough one.
"Don't put doubt in the referee's mind is another key one. We can't just blame the ref for those closing minutes against the Wallabies. We put doubt in his mind by failing to secure the lineout and it went from there.
"You come to understand that when you make an error at that level - and the Six Nations is the same - you're going to get punished. International rugby is so dangerous.
"Look at our match against Samoa, who have unbelievably fearless rugby players. One missed tackle and you are playing into their hands. They know how to play rugby. They're genetic machines.
"So that's another thing we have to brush up on - our defence. We can create and score but we need to be tougher to break down. We need to get so many things right."
Scotland ought to be more potent as an attacking force than they have ever been in the Six Nations, but when you're shipping tries to the tune of 12 in their last three games of the World Cup then the problem is obvious.
More power, more defensive organisation and more belligerence is required. Dickinson knows that better than anybody.
"It's been 10 years since we won our opening game in a Six Nations and of our squad only Sean Lamont was playing back then," he says.
"We feel like we're getting there and we're working hard. England have so much to prove and they're going to bring everything to the table. We owe it to our fans to do something special. It's been too long.
"They keep turning up in massive numbers and it's humbling and I hope they know we really appreciate it. It's not easy for them, it's not cheap and they're a massive motivation for us. We want to do the country proud."