Six Nations 2018: Do Scotland have the self-belief to beat England?

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland
Scotland's players gather in a huddle before their recent Six Nations game against France
Scotland gather in a huddle before their win over France - do they have the belief to beat England?
Six Nations 2018: Scotland v England
Venue: Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh Date: Saturday, 24 February Kick-off: 16:45 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC One, BBC Radio 5 live and BBC Radio Scotland. Live text commentary and report on the BBC website and app

Rugby, at the highest level, has become a savagely complex game, but at least one simple truth still remains from the old days.

Self-belief: if you don't have it - that's to say, truly have it in your bones rather than merely saying that you have it in an attempt to convince the public and yourself - then no amount of hours on the training ground or in the analysis room is going to do you a blind bit of good.

Heading into the Calcutta Cup, it's fair to ponder that question. Where do Scotland rate on the self-belief-o-meter?

They have given two starkly different performances in their first two games of the championship: folding in Wales and digging it out in Edinburgh, handing impetus and victory to Warren Gatland's team at the Principality Stadium because of their own mindless errors, and then turning the tables on Jacques Brunel's France by feeding off their mistakes in the way Wales fed off Scotland's the week before.

Where are Scotland at? In particular, where are Scotland at in the context of a game against a winning machine like England, a side that can beat you with pace and trickery if they must, but who usually take the less scenic route by choking teams to death with their relentless power game and finishing them off through the near-surgical brilliance of Owen Farrell.

Scotland want to move the ball wide, want to get the crowd on their feet, want to beat teams with their tempo and their chaos. England, frankly, don't care how they do it.

"Test match rugby is about winning, it's not about entertainment," said England head coach Eddie Jones this week. "If you want entertainment, watch Super Rugby. It's about winning and [we have] found a way to win. Don't ask me about style because style is irrelevant."

England have won 24 out of 25 games under Jones. In their championship win last season, they were losing with 10 minutes to go against France and were losing with five minutes to go against Wales. They won both Tests. They've been involved in eight games where the difference at the end was six points or less and they've won seven of them.

In his fourth game in charge they got outscored three tries to one against Wales - and won. In his seventh game they shipped four tries to the Wallabies - and won. In his ninth game they conceded five more tries, and 40 points, to the Wallabies - and still won. Argentina took 34 points off a shadow version of this England side in the summer and still got beaten.

As Jones says, they know how to get the job done.

So we go back to Scotland's self-belief. There's credit in the bank, for sure, especially since this game is at Murrayfield, where they have won eight of their last 10 Tests. If this was another visit to Twickenham you'd be covering your eyes. Murrayfield can be different.

Discount the autumn. If the autumn was a reliable form guide for the Six Nations then Wales would never win a title and Scotland would nearly always be contenders. Championship rugby is the only barometer and Scotland have credit in the bank. Scotland's victories over Ireland, Wales and France at Murrayfield in the last year must give them belief.

Eddie Jones oversees England training this week
Eddie Jones makes no apologies for England's style as he targets a third straight Six Nations title

Physically, they have fronted-up against bigger packs. Creatively, they have caused a lot of problems. Scotland averaged 29 points in those three games. They have the guns to trouble England, but a bewildering array of battles must be won before they do.

Under Jones, in the Six Nations, England have conceded an average of just 14 points per game. It's not that they play devastatingly good rugby. They don't. They play devastatingly effective rugby. They're shrewd, decisive and tough. They're systematic.

They make few errors and through their defensive line speed, hunger for work and innate understanding of precisely what is expected of them in every given moment, they force mistakes out of the opposition and exploit them better than most teams. Farrell orchestrates all of this. He is one of the great players in world rugby right now. Part bludgeon, part rapier, a supreme tactician and leader.

It's instructive to look at what Ireland did last season when they became the first, and only, side to get the better of England under Jones. Their error count was low, they dominated possession and territory, they looked after the ball like it was a new-born babe.

Jones spoke after that match about Ireland's ferocity at the breakdown and how they contested the ball with a zeal that rattled England. Jack McGrath put in howitzer hits on Courtney Lawes and Billy Vunipola early on and that set the tone. Robbie Henshaw went after Farrell and burst through him a number of times. The sight of England's totem getting dumped on his backside electrified the Irish supporters. The Murrayfield crowd can be a factor in all of this as long as the Scotland players give them something to believe in.

Owen Farrell pins down Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton in England's defeat in Dublin in the 2017 Six Nations
Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton came in for some rough treatment from England - including Owen Farrell - in Dublin last year

England targeted Johnny Sexton with some late hits, but Sexton got up and got on with it. He would not be cowed. A lesson for Finn Russell. As sure as night follows day, England are coming for the Scotland fly-half and if he's weak and indecisive, then they'll make a small boy of him. This is the day when Russell needs to find himself and show that he's capable of world class.

The Irish pack was immense that day. Rory Best was all over England ball at the breakdown. Tadhg Furlong was an absolute rock. CJ Stander carried 20 times. Peter O'Mahony caused such havoc on the floor that he won a place in the Lions squad on the back of that one game. England were forced to tackle and tackle and tackle. Billy Vunipola made 13 tackles, James Haskell 14, Joe Launchbury 18 and Lawes and Maro Itoje 20 apiece.

Even then, after getting so many things right, Ireland won by just four points.

Gregor Townsend said during the week that Scotland are going to have to play the perfect game to beat England. The perfect game? That means Scotland's defence metamorphosing into a wrecking ball and Scotland's breakdown becoming John Jeffrey-esque in its brutality and its devilment.

That means Russell managing the game like a mature Test 10 and eliminating the flakiness we have seen from him against Wales and France. That means a rock solid scrum and a line-out that doesn't just deliver quality ball but disrupts English ball. That means planting seeds of doubt in the minds of the visitors and getting the home crowd to fever pitch.

It means a hundred different things, large and small, but above all, it means that Scotland will have to enter the field truly, madly and deeply believing that they can beat this team. That's step one. Step two is perfection, or close to it. Only fleetingly has this England team thrilled its audience with the quality of its rugby during its 25 games under Jones, but that's not what they're about.

As if put together in a lab by a crazy genius, they are programmed to win. In trying to throw a spanner in the works, Scotland's task is an epic one.


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