Six Nations 2019: Scotland need rugby miracle against England
|Six Nations 2019: England v Scotland|
|Venue: Twickenham Date: Saturday, 16 March Kick-off: 17:00 GMT|
|Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Radio Scotland 810MW/DAB/online, plus live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app|
Even the boffins' boffin - The Boffinator - would struggle to explain some of the world's miracles and phenomena.
Apparently there was a boy in Colorado who was cured of terminal illness by a German nun who'd been dead for 100 years. There was a man who fell out of the 47th floor of a New York skyscraper and lived to tell the tale. A few years ago, a woman in Florida had no pulse for 45 minutes then woke up with ripping yarns about the afterlife.
What confuses the medics and the scientists is not just that these people survived - and let's not get into the story of the decapitated boy living happily in Idaho - but when they were restored to health their first thoughts were the same. All confidently concluded if the world was such a bizarre place that certain death hadn't killed them then there was still hope for Scotland winning a Test match at Twickenham. Or words to the effect.
And yet we wait and wait for the rugby miracle. Seventeen games stretching back 36 years. Sixteen English victories and one draw. Five hundred and nineteen English points and 235 Scottish. There was still a Berlin Wall and still a Cold War when Scotland last won at Twickenham. Nobody had heard of the World Wide Web. There's been three Popes, six Prime Ministers, six US Presidents and one Scottish parliament. No member of the current squad was born when their country last won at Twickenham. Gregor Townsend was 10 years old.
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Eddie Jones has been cranking things up as only Eddie Jones can be bothered to do. With a record of no defeat by Scotland at Twickenham since the pre-mobile phone age, quite why he engages in trash talk is hard to fathom, but he's got stuck in regardless. If Scotland produce a performance of the ages and win there would be a long queue of people waiting to ask Jones how it feels to be the first England coach to lose back-to-back games to the Scots since 1984. Realistically, the chances are slim to none and, as the Americans say, slim just left town.
The cold reality is that after Saturday the Scots have only three more games - France home and away and Georgia away - before Townsend names his World Cup squad. They have only four more before they face Ireland on 22 September in Yokohama. It's all getting worryingly close now.
They've lost three in a row and and they're likely to be four in a row after Saturday. Better Scotland teams than this one have gone to Twickenham and been beaten. A strong Scotland team - with wins over Ireland and Wales under their belt - went there two years ago and conceded 61 points.
Eight of the starting side on Saturday have never played England at Twickenham. What to make of that? A positive because they're not loaded down by the baggage of defeat? Or a bad thing because they don't know what's about to hit them straight between the eyes?
Scotland have spent much of the Six Nations in an injury-induced holding pattern. It's been hard to draw major conclusions on what we've seen given the number of hugely-influential men who've been absent. By Saturday night's finale, Duncan Taylor, John Barclay and Richie Gray will have missed all five games, Stuart Hogg will have missed four games, Hamish Watson, Huw Jones, Ryan Wilson and Sam Skinner will have missed three, WP Nel and Sean Maitland will have missed two. Blair Kinghorn is now out for the season after going off against Wales.
No country in the world could hope to maintain their standard with that amount of casualties. The whole championship has been frustrating. Maddening at times. Even without the cavalry Scotland have won a huge amount of ball in each of their games. They've made more metres with ball in hand than any other nation. They've had long periods of possession and territory.
Scotland have forgotten how to finish
Against Ireland they were in the visitors half for more than 70% of the opening 40 minutes. Against France they had five more attacking minutes than the hosts. Last Saturday they had nearly eight more attacking minutes than Wales. Yet they lost all three games and scored an average of 11 points.
Scotland have forgotten how to finish, but what if you bled some of the missing names back into the team? We could see what a huge difference Watson made on his reappearance against Wales. What if you put Hogg and a confident Jones back in there, what if Taylor returns fit and well, what if Barclay and Wilson are introduced? Does the chronic inability to finish what they started continue? Or does the added quality make Scotland an altogether different animal?
Amid the injury crisis there's been a few positives. Darcy Graham was presented with a chance to show what he's got on the wing - and he's got plenty. Sam Johnson has pushed himself firmly into the conversation at 12. Jamie Ritchie might not make it into a first-choice Scotland back-row but, as it stands, you'd have to have him on the plane to Japan. Ben Toolis, possessing some of the aggression and badness factor that Scotland so desperately need more of, has now dethroned Jonny Gray.
These are interesting developments, but all the while you long for a humane end to this Six Nations. Scotland's confidence has taken a serious buffeting these past weeks, but the scariest examination is now upon them. Since 1983 the average score at Twickenham has been 31-14.
Truth be told, more than a few Scots would probably settle for that before putting the entire Six Nations experience behind them as they welcome Hogg and Barclay and the rest of the cavalry back down from the hilltops in the countdown to Japan. The journey from dark clouds to rising sun can't come quickly enough.