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New dawns, auld enemies

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Tom Fordyce | 19:58 UK time, Thursday, 2 February 2012

The wintry weather at England's training base, tucked away in the forests of rural Surrey, appeared on Thursday to be perfectly in sync with the ambitions of interim coach Stuart Lancaster - first a bright new sunny dawn, then a fierce wind to blow away the dead wood.

Inside the plush Pennyhill Park staterooms, Lancaster had just announced a line-up to face Scotland that featured eight new caps in the match-day 22, led by a skipper with a solitary cap from a summer tour.

There was excitement about the place. There were a few raised eyebrows from the wiser old owls listening in - Murrayfield on a bleak February evening being no place for dilettantes, that sort of thing - and, already, the sound of clanging nerves.

Cole was one of the few to come back from New Zealand with reputation untarnished. Photo: Getty

"They start so early in the week," admits Dan Cole, with 23 caps a comparative grizzled veteran in this squad of fresh faces.

"You get the butterflies, and then you try to get rid of them in training, by going hard. But as the week goes by they build. By the time you get to Wednesday or Thursday, you want to get away from here.

"You want to think about the game, but you can't play it at 7am when you wake up. If you play it in your head the adrenaline will come too early, and by kick-off you'll have dropped right down again."

Lancaster, given the coach's role for just five games but keen to take it on permanently, has a tightrope of his own to walk. "It's about a team for now, and a team for the future - we're trying to achieve both," he told us.

The success or otherwise over the next seven weeks of this balance between pragmatism and planning will probably decide Lancaster's England future. It is also something that leaves his players in a strangely precarious position.

"If we lose, you can't say, oh well, we're developing for the next World Cup," says Cole, with feeling.

"It can't ever become acceptable to lose. Yes, there's - not even one eye, maybe a quarter of an eye - on the World Cup, but we're playing for our places in the team next week.

"The World Cup is for the management and coaches to sort out. We might show signs of development, but you might not be in the team next week.

"You can't look at four years' time when you're a player. Last season we won four games and then had a chance of a Grand Slam against Ireland. People might have thought, it won't matter, I'll have another opportunity, but it might be the only shot you get at a Grand Slam.

"Same at the World Cup - 15 minutes of rugby, concede two tries, and you're out. We might be a better team for it, but so what? You go to somewhere like Scotland, fight hard, get a result - that moves you on. That allows you to improve."

Ah, the World Cup. With each day that passes, England's performance appears to get worse. How does Cole, one of the few players to come through New Zealand with reputation untarnished, feel about that scandal-hit four weeks now?

"When you go out in the quarter-finals, the first thought is, 'What a waste'," he says. "You've done 10 weeks pre-season, all that work in New Zealand, and everything you've worked for those two years is over. It's gone from you, just like that."

He clicks his finger. "Afterwards everyone seemed to be venting their frustration. The new faces here are helping us move on, but there is stuff we have to turn round off the field as well, losing certain perceptions of us."

Unfair perceptions?

"Yeah. The perception that we're arrogant. If you spent time with the team, you wouldn't think we were arrogant. I think we're quite a friendly bunch. We've got to change those perceptions, show people we're not the idiots we're made out to be."

That process involves more than just the hard, cold yards put in on Pennyhill Park's bespoke pitch. On the less heralded turf of West Park, just outside Leeds, where the team were based for the previous fortnight, as well as in the team meetings that followed, Lancaster's new approach has been impossible to miss.

"There's an edginess around the squad, in a good way," says Cole.

"Everyone's turning up early for meetings, because no-one wants to be the one person who's late. Things before were maybe a bit lackadaisical, thinking, oh, that's all right. Now there's no compromise - people turn up and want to train hard, because you don't want to be the one who lets the squad down.

"You see Robbo (Chris Robshaw) keen as mustard, and when you see your captain do that, you're not going to let him down."

Without his squad's knowledge, Lancaster sent letters to influential people in each of his players' lives - parents, early coaches, PE teachers - asking them what it meant to see their lad playing for England, what they wanted to see from the team, what they wanted that player to realise. He then collated the responses and presented each player with a framed letter.

"It was good to see what we really represent - it's not just about yourself, or the 22 guys," says Cole.

"What you're representing is your family and friends, and all those people who helped you when you were 12-years-old, the coaches who supported you. That's what rugby is about, it's who you are. It's not, 'I'm England, sod you all'. You're not alienated from that support - you might not see it every day, but it is there.

The tight-head prop, now shorn of the ZZ Top facial growth he was sporting last autumn ("It was a World Cup beard. I enjoyed cultivating it in my spare time, but if you're not at a World Cup, you can't have a World Cup beard...") is enjoying the different emphasis in training.

"With Stu and Faz [Andy Farrell] the coaching staff is a lot smaller. So it's tighter, it's more directed.

"Before, our sessions were quite spread out, but Stu keeps them fairly up tempo. There is a point to everything we do - I'm not saying in the past there wasn't, but now we go from theme to theme. The rugby we play isn't as structured - it's more open and free-flowing.

"We can take our time to get things right if they're not working, but there's an 'up' feeling to the sessions, and you have to stay on your toes, and that's good. It's a quick game, and you need to think on the hoof - so that's what we're doing.

"Stu does seem to enjoy the job. He does bring a positive attitude, from the way he talks and everything else. He's a good guy to work with."

England haven't won at Murrayfield since 2004. As baptisms for new boys go, it's likely to be both icy cold and red hot. Cole feels ready for the battles ahead.

"Every time I've played the Scottish it's been a tight game - we only just beat them at the World Cup, drew with them in my first game, tight last year.

"We're going there to win. And whether that's by one point or 15, we'll take it."


  • Comment number 1.

    Thats an opinion changing interview of Cole for me. Previously he has come across as cantankerous. Thanks Tom.

    It might not be pretty but its gonna be good.

  • Comment number 2.

    Don't buy this 'an Eng loss is ok so long as we play with flair' I've heard so much of recently. If/when we lose to Sco and/or Ita it'll be because they've shoved our collective heads up our collective arrises - no flair there then. For the first 2 games, any win would be fine. Then wait for the cavalry (Flood, Manu, Lawes, Wood) to arrive. And where's Haskell when you want him?

  • Comment number 3.

    Refreshingly honest interview from one of the more senior members of the squad, who is still a relatively new face himself. Hopefully this is the start of a new England, where the underlying arrogance can be put to bed with the retiring of the old guard (Players and coaches).

    Leave the arrogance for the field and be humble in the interviews. This has worked well for Ireland and Wales over the last 4-5 years and seems to have bred the determination to win matches rather than having an expected right to.

  • Comment number 4.

    There is this culture, perpetuated intensely by the media, that we (England) should be winning that we should be doing better, that we should be sitting on top of the rankings. Everything from the history of the game to the size of our player pool is used to defend this outlook. It's not exactly arrogance, but neither does it breed the passion or the hunger that Wales, Ireland or Scotland have when they line up against us.

    Maths and stats won't win us everything, we can't keep looking back, we have to look forward and reflect the changing nature of the game in preparation. Really interesting interview, Cole certainly seems to be saying the right things and Lancaster's idea of writing to influential people in the players' lives to give them an indication of what it should mean to pull on an England shirt is a great idea. We need that passion and the heads-up ability to translate that into decisive play.

    I'm hugely excited for this tournament.

  • Comment number 5.

    i don't know him, but he sounds like my kind of coach!

  • Comment number 6.

    Finally it seems some sense has been brought to the England rugby set-up. I agree with the earlier comment (TheFuzzFactory) for too long there has been this belief that England deserve to win every match - regardless of how we play.

    I hope that the disastrous 4 weeks at the world cup; and the introduction of a new coach will bring a sense of reality back to the squad making them play with the passion and pride deserving of an England shirt. So far Lancaster's approach seems to be 100% professional and I hope he gets a real chance to sort this lot out.

    Going to be a great 7 weeks

  • Comment number 7.

    Honestly guys I think you are going to get done over. A bunch of mean Scots forwards are going to stomp all over you. AR is being conservative for the first half, then he'll let the dogs loose. You might freeze but it won't be because of the snow.
    Corbisero will get smashed.

  • Comment number 8.

    The way I see it, it'll go one of two ways - England will surprise the Scots and win a hard, close game.. or Scotland will romp to a massive victory, outclassing an inexperienced England.

  • Comment number 9.

    We English really hope that this will be a new start for our team. Someone needed to get hold of it and Lancaster has had the courage and confidence to do it. I'm certainly looking forward to the tournament more than I would have been had the old guard and attitudes turned up again. At this stage I'm hoping that the RFU don't expect instant miracles and bring in a "Name" from the merry-go-round like they do in football; that would be a massive step back.

  • Comment number 10.

    I find it very strange that Banahan is not even on the bench! He's just the sort of player we need against the Scots, big and fast and always busy looking for the ball. I hope England win, but have my doubts, too little experience and a novice captain as well. Seen it before and it didn't work then. I wish them well and will be watching in hope with fingers crossed.

  • Comment number 11.

    Great insight into England's collective mindset going into this match. Personally, I'd be happy with a 3rd place this 6 nations, but if those players run out and play their hearts out to the best of their abilities and leave everything on the pitch, yet come away in 5th or so, then I'll be happy! I want an England team I can be proud of once again, I want an England team that I can be in awe of, win or lose. (Having said that, wins against Scotland and Ireland would be nice, if only to keep them from their boasting, which gets tiresome). Wales for the 6N.

  • Comment number 12.

    Nought to the "a" word in 3 posts!

    Apologies for my frivolity but I play "arrogance" bingo with rugby threads, well, actually, it is more like spread betting and see how long it takes before someone mentions arrogance and my full apologies lifelongrugbyfan who has used the "a" word in a different context. I fully realise I am also guilty too!

    Anyhow, I can't wait for the kick-off. Watch out for the Scottish back row attacking the English 12 and 13. They might smash them (and win the game) or they might get side-stepped and and be watching the ball being plonked under their posts.

  • Comment number 13.

    I think the welsh have the jump on all the teams this time around as they bled all those youngster down in New Zealand so they are out of the blocks quicker. This game will be tight, not so sure about the flair though. Whoever's kicker holds his nerve on the day will come out with the win.

  • Comment number 14.

    I don't think I've ever seen England send out such an inexperienced team ... and I can't think of a worse venue to send out an inexperienced England team either. As long as a highly charged Scotland team don't let emotion go their heads this is a game that's there for the taking. I'll happily be proved wrong but this is Scotland's game by a country mile, its their's to lose and the best I can hope for is a performance that promises much for England's future.

  • Comment number 15.

    Good interview, Tom. Refreshingly Cole's remarks lack the usual platitudes of false humility (is there a bingo game on that word as well?)., and shed light on the different atmosphere that a new coaching team and some hungry new faces can make.

    I do think it will be a very difficult game for England, a real test of nerve. Hodgson is a concern given his defensive record at international level, but he does have some experience that is elsewhere absent. I think Youngs could be the deciding factor - he has the potential to take the game away from Scotland but he will need to be on his best form.

    My main concern is the lack of experience on the bench. If England need to close the game down in the last quarter (assuming they are not 15 points behind by then) I cannot see the experience there to do it.

    Robinson will have a good game plan and a motivated team - I agree that this England team are probably the underdogs.

  • Comment number 16.

    I'm not an England fan, but am pragmatic about their supposedly 'disastrous' World Cup. Off field shenanigans aside (which made for amusing reading) England had a poor 15 minutes in one game and were knocked out. That is the nature of knock out sport. True, they didn't play beautiful flowing rugby prior to that and the manner of some of their wins didn't meet pre-match/Cup expectations but isn't this often their style of play? A win is a win. After all, it worked in the previous World Cup where they got to the Final without looking impressive for more than 10 minutes in any one game.

    I think a new broom sweeping clean is exciting and I hope the exuberance of youth, allied to a faster game plan, could be a real boon for English rugby. Guys are being picked on form rather than reputation, and that is encouraging. England will always have a strong pack but marry that to expressive, talented backs who have the confidence, even arrogance, to not fear the occasional mistake during a game, then England could re-earn plaudits for their rugby as well as to continue winning. Lancaster is in a 'no lose' situation in many ways so this could release some of the immense pressure and make for an interesting 6 Nations.

    An unshackled England filled with young, on-form players, an Irish team made up of players from the teams which are destroying everyone else in the Heineken Cup, a French team with a coach they respect and want to play for, and a Scottish team playing the auld enemy in the cauldron of Murrayfield. Mouth watering prospect.

    As a Welshman, with so many of our World Cup stand out players on the injured list, I do not feel as hopeful as I did when the World Cup drew to a close.

  • Comment number 17.

    @16 Mike B: I agree with you, especially your first paragraph!

    Good blog Tom, nice to see an inside perspective of the England camp. I tihnk they key thing for England tomorrow will be intensity. If England go out all guns blazing and hit the Scots head on with a high tempo game we can beat them. If not, it will be a long afternoon!

    However, I am quietly confident. I dont see our 13 (Barritt) getting smashed (like northern_pub_tours said).

    First score to Foden, second to Strettle.

  • Comment number 18.

    What a great article, but i am slightly alarmed at the attitude towards everything martin Johnston did, was a complete failure, we are six nations champions! the other five nations would have loved to say that. who,s to say that the team picked for the Scotland game would be different from the team martin would have selected

  • Comment number 19.

    This England team looks very Northern, with a massive influence from rugby league, former players Ashton, Strettle, Owen Farrell and coach Andy.
    For a game based in the middle class Southern areas this England squad doesn't represent it's followers.
    Where's Tarquin and Rupert ? They should be at fly half?

    Prediction 3-6 to England and my tv switched over at 2 minutes 30 seconds.

  • Comment number 20.

    @19 Fuzzy Duck why do you even bother reading or commenting on Rugby Union? If you don't like it don't watch it and keep your moaning to yourself.

    (And did Strettle or Farrell ever play Rugby League?........1 out of 15......hardly northern feel, and so what if it did!)

  • Comment number 21.

    20. Yes Strettle played for Latchford Albion as well as Lymm and Owen Farrell played for Wigan St.Pats RL and Wigan scholarship, and have some trophies to prove it.

  • Comment number 22.

    I don't think it is "arrogance" to expect England to be challenging for the championship. Although inexperienced I think this England squad on paper is exciting and I hope they are given a certain freedom to play "heads up" rugby.

    Besides is there truly a team England should fear in the Six Nations??

  • Comment number 23.

    I'm pleased and excited by what Stuart Lancaster is trying to do. He's put out to grass the guys who believed they deserved to start no matter what. He's picked players on form rather than relying on past glories or, worse still, pitching players returning from injury straight into a cauldron (poor Lewis Moody...what a way to end a fine career). He's chucked out some of the younger prima donnas who want to act like footballers.

    He might just unleash something. New players, willing to play at 110% may extract some life from the franchise. Then again, New Look England may come up short. In which case they will be savaged horribly by the decidedly Same Old Press Pack, who will have no compunction in using the same old tactics to monster them!

    Poor Dan Cole, was he speaking from a script? He just doesn't seem to get it. The people who accuse England of arrogance absolutely need England to be arrogant to give meaning to their otherwise dull lives. That will never, ever change! Stuart Lancaster's boys could spend all their training time coaching in schools. They could go to bed at 9.00pm with a cup of cocoa. They could volunteer for famine-relief work in the off-season, but all to no avail. The same accusation would be trotted out, year in, year out faster than you say Jonny Wilkinson!

    Probably better to drop all the "nice guy" stuff and concentrate on meeting all the people who've worked themselves up into a froth, head on. England packs of old wouldn't have caved in because some excitable Celts had been told that it's OK to pull someone's head off because of something that may (or very probably may not) have happened several hundred years ago. They'd have given it back. Good and hard!

    Less PR...more steel please!

  • Comment number 24.

    Fuzzy Duck

    Why do you bother? Most union folk don't go around moaning about Rugby League, even if it has become a one dimensional (can you have less than one dimension?) boshing-fest played in the summer so that it can coincide with the season in the only other country where it is remotely popular.

    Silly regional and class stereotypes were, I thought, a thing of the past. Still, if it's what you want....before league became a "summer game" played by angry and suspiciously over-muscled men going puce in the heat and humping the ground for some reason, it was something very different. I'm old enough to recall watching league in the Eddie Waring days when it was just fat Northerners brawling in the ankle-deep mud watched by men in caps eating pork scratchings and waiting for 't 'ooter!

    The fact that so many young league players want to move to union clubs says it all really! If you don't want to watch the Calcutta Cup match...errr...then don't!

  • Comment number 25.

    A quick Matt Banahan point..... I am very happy to see hes out, Stuart Lancaster has seen the light that he brought very little skill and rugby brain to the field, not surprising seeing as though hes a hockey player. As for speed?? and size, I think if you cast back your mind to many wasted opportunities in his terrible hands and when he was dwarfed by Shane Williams before the world cup, when any other international winger would have put it to bed, that is your answer to why he is out.

  • Comment number 26.

    @21: Ok I didn't know that. So whats your point? 1/5th of the team have played league at some point?

    @22: I have to agree with you. On paper the team looks good. They mainly play for Sarcens, Harlequins, Leicester and Northampton, all who I would expect to beat Glasgow or Edinburgh. I don't expect us to win, but I believe we can win!

  • Comment number 27.

    No matter how nice we were the Scots and Welsh would always call us arrogant - I'm surprised we've not had one here whinging 'why are the blogs always about England and not us smaller more insignificant nations' (said in whiney 5 year old girl's voice).

    Do you know what - we should be better than all the other nations - let's start believing that we can be and are and it might mean we run into contact a bit meaner and a bit more agressively. There is nothing I like more than seeing us smash anybody and I can't remember the last time we did.

    What does wind me up about the above interview though is that the players apparently now don't turn up late for meetings. They turned up 1/2 an hour late to the open training session at Leeds the other week. It was flipping freezing - we were told to get there 8.45-9.15am for A 10.10 start. 10.40 they bowled out. Did half an hour of various touch and pass games, spent 10 minutes kicking it to each other and then did some handling skills. Boring as hell - even all the school kids who had been bussed in to watch were playing their own games of touch and pass. Professional and elite? I'd expect them to turn up their public engagements on time if they were that. Grr, rant over.

  • Comment number 28.

    I like Dan Cole, seems a down to earth lad and gets stuck in, in the Phil Vickery mould. Just a little concerned at another player talking about perception of arrogance again though. Ashton seems well and truly hung up on it. We're England... people are always going to throw that at us whether it's true or not and half the time it's got nothing at all to do with rugby (Ash 'Splash' / S.Williams 'exuberant showmanship' for example).

    Early days, we haven't even played a game yet, but I hope we don't get too hung up on showing that we're 'playing without fear' we fling it out wide, play loose and try to score tries from out side when it's not on. We'd make some friends for trying, but we're England so... not too many ;) It's not wrong there's an expectation we should be win more than we lose and we can't be afraid to win ugly in the big tight games. Some folk thought after THAT Australia win in the November test it would be champagne rugby all the way. Couple of games in to the next 6N we got found out and the confidence started to ebb away.

    Scotland away, first game of the 6N after a disastrous WC in which the only 'highlight' that I can remember is nudging past them at the death, half a dozen new caps in the match day team, a returning 10 with some baggage as far as England are concerned, haven't won there since 2004, new manager, their manager ex-england manager/player who had a bit of a hard time of it, probably cr@ppy weather... they'll be well up for this and it's a massive test for us early on - there's no such thing as 'only' Scotland when it's vs England afterall. I'd take a 6 try fest, of course, but if that's not on I'd be just as happy with a 3 point nurgle from a team with the nouse to play to the conditions and circumstances. If ain't on, it ain't on, lets just take the Win and save the champagne stuff for a crack at Italy next week.

  • Comment number 29.

    24.... The fact that League youngsters are making the English RU side with ease makes a mockery of the state of union in England.

    26.... Pretty sure Foden is from Chester, Charlie Hosgson from Halifax and so on .....know your facts!

  • Comment number 30.

    Dan is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. Feet formly on the ground. His mum attended all the games he was at when playing for Bedford and was just so proud of him playing in the Championship. Saying how hard he works and how he just wanted to be better.

    All the coaching staff at Bedford will only ever say great things about this young man. Every member of Bedford's crowd knew he was going to be an international player. He was always too modest to agree with you when chatting in the bar after the game.

    As to this side being inexperienced, this is how they get it. This is how we find out which player is mentally strong enough and which isn't. Mental toughness is key to rugby as all the top players (with a few notable exceptions) are generally pretty even from a skills perspective.

    I remember the famous quote of you cannot win anything with kids. Look what happened there! The best 22 non-injured players have been picked for this team. Something we have been crying out for. Now it's happened, people complain because of a lack of experience. Where did all that experience get us against Ireland? Where did all that experience get us against France? All that experience should have lost to Scotland at the WC.

    People also forget that Scotland have scored no more than 1 try against top opposition for quite some time. People also forget that most of the England team play HC rugby and have won Prem titles - quite high pressure.

    This game will probably be very tight. One score in it. Scotland are unlikely to romp away. England could given the understanding a lot of players already have.

    All I want to see is a good game with two sides going at each other and giving 100%, with the victor fully deserving the win. Whichever side that is.

  • Comment number 31.


    Erm should you not be concentrating on the bloke in front of you who wants to make that an extra large meal ?

  • Comment number 32.

    @ 29: So Foden and Hodgson are from the north? Did they play league? Even so. What. Is. Your. Point. ????????????? Totally irrelevant.

    If league players were making the England team with ease Joel Tomkins would be starting.

    Truth is you can't count Strettle or Farrell as ex-league players......both only played Union at a high standard. It took Ashton a while to get let into the Engladn set up. Had to score 50+ tries for Northampton first!

  • Comment number 33.

    RE 21 Fuzzy Duck

    Lymm is a rugby union club and, having played against them as a teenager, a pretty good one.

  • Comment number 34.

    FuzzyDuck, you could always argue that they played league, got bored with it, and then decided union was much more fun to play.

  • Comment number 35.

    usedtobefast: That is stunning! And brilliantly hilarious. You write "No matter how nice we were the Scots and Welsh would always call us arrogant - I'm surprised we've not had one here whinging 'why are the blogs always about England and not us smaller more insignificant nations' (said in whiney 5 year old girl's voice)." So you're not arrogant, you're nice, and to back that all up you say "more insignificant nations". My gob is smacked!

  • Comment number 36.

    Back to the rugby, though, I think it will be an incredibly tight game. I expect the Scots to make it extremely tough for the new-look England side, and I don't think it'll be free-flowing try-scoring rugby. For me, hard graft from the English front five will be crucial and I expect a narrow margin of victory - thinking 15-12 something like that.

    As for the tournament as a whole, I have never been so unsure who will perform. Winners could come from Eng, Ireland, Wales or France (I can't see Scotland winning this year but they are steadily coming out of what has been a bit of a rut). Very excited! My predo - 1. Wales 2. France 3. England 4. Ireland 5. Scotland 6. Italy.

  • Comment number 37.

    Prediction for Eng v Scot

    Howling gale, torrential rain, crowd of raging Braveheart extras sets the scene.

    Cue first half of never ending Garry Owens from Scotland, hoping England will knock on or try to attack from their own 22 to no avail. Turnover ball outside the 22. Scrum collapses, England penalised ( because the referee is a Celt) penalty sucessfully kicked. Restart....... more up and unders from Scotland aided by a swirling wind and tsunami type rainfall. End of half.

    Start of second half Scotland continue to use their main weapon............... Garry Owen. Scottish crowd now psyched, baying for English blood due to hatred borne from events several hundred years ago. Another penalty to Scotland....... not for anything in particular, just the referee is from Ireland. Guest appearance by Mel Gibson wearing a kilt sends the crowd into a frenzy.

    Scotland win 6 - 0. Then get beaten by everyone else in the tournament, but dont care because they beat England.

  • Comment number 38.

    "Just a little concerned at another player talking about perception of arrogance again though. Ashton seems well and truly hung up on it. We're England... people are always going to throw that at us whether it's true or not and half the time it's got nothing at all to do with rugby (Ash 'Splash' / S.Williams 'exuberant showmanship' for example)."

    Oh Dear. No, no, sorry, you're right. Shane's the arrogant guy. No sense of humour. Nasty. But Chris? A real gent! Lovely. And definitely not arrogant. Really looking forward to him swallow diving in this championship. Perhaps after the game's over he could even do a couple? Fact: all the people who've suggested that he, or anyone else in the England camp has been arrogant in the past are actually wrong because they've been consistently very very humble. So how on earth they got this reputation throughout the world is utterly baffling and a bit unfair now that they're not doing terribly well... Anyway, the main thing is that it's all in the results, and as someone humbly pointed out in an earlier post: "have England really got anyone to fear in this six nations?"

  • Comment number 39.

    Dont care if England get to eat humble pie with a wooden spoon as long as we score some blooming tries and play with passion and no fear. Give this bunch of lads a 2 year run with no pressure from the media and we could build a team to make the southern hemisphere worried. Unfortunately I know what will happen all the miserable old gits in the media will scream for Lancasters head to be put on a pole outside Twickenham as soon as the final whistle goes at Murrayfield. Some bitter ex player will get on the BBC news and we will be straight back to the dark ages. No wonder no internationally regarded coach would touch the England job with someone elses barge pole.

  • Comment number 40.

    'Rugby Player drinks beer!' is hardly front page news but I've just read Lewis Moody's autobiography that quite candidly reports that massive **ss-ups were an integral part of the club and country game during season and tournaments, win or lose. I guess most readers of this page (including me) have done plenty of that but then most of us have not been picked to represent our country. Also much of what we do or don't do reflects our state of mind and the common state of the group we are part of.

    I was at a family wedding in June last year. One of my relatives plays for a Championship football team who are doing particularly well under a new, modern, enlightened manager. We were all enjoying a good drink and he told me "We start training again next week - this will be my last 'drink' until the end of the season.". Now I know him to be a good family man who takes his profession seriously anyway, but this also reflected the culture in his club. When I saw England 'performing' in New Zealand I thought of this conversation I'd had in June - and then we find out as well that one of our senior players is on his second drink-driving ban - and still being picked.

    So for my money - all this talk about "Lack of experience" is a real positive. We've got rid of some of the sort of experience we didn't need and it appears from the outside that Stuart Lancaster has, at a stroke, changed the culture in the English team. And like some of the other commentators here I'd be pleased to see England win of course but also to do OK this weekend - I mean on their day the Scots will give anyone a good run out at Murrayfield and losing there would not change my view on what's happening in English Rugby.

    My concern is what happens after the six-nations.

    I'd like to think along the lines that 'The England Set-Up' (itself in transition) knew Lancaster was the right man for the full time job but felt they could do without the press, pundits and public (some of whom have already decided for us that we need another 'Name' from the merry-go-round) on their back at this time and were cute enough to make this a 'temporary assignment' just for this reason while they got the rest of their act together, in the knowledge they were doing the right thing and that they would make it permanent anyway.

    I'd hate to think Lancaster's appointment was really a temporary, British management "well let's see what happens" - then if we get a couple of glitches "let's get rid and get a 'Name' in place" - you know standard CYA.

    And finally - my prediction is that England will really cut loose this weekend with Ashton, Foden, Croft and Strettle all on the scoresheet - I'd like to think that they all already realise he's the right man and that they'll all already be playing to win but also to make sure he keeps his job.

  • Comment number 41.


    Completely agree Lancaster must be allowed the full 4 year cycle. 2 good examples of how stability, a clear goal and everyone moving in the same direction are the British cycling team and the England Cricket Team.

    Brailsford (cycling head man) was given all the resources he needed along with the aim of being the worlds leading cycling nation. The formula has worked so successfully we are miles ahead of other nations.

    The cricket team led by Flower and Strauss have stayed with the same players over time to get us to number 1 in the world. Before the Ashes both Stuart Broad and Ali Cook were being hounded by the media to be dropped. Now isn;t their egg on on everyone's faces.

    The English board need a clear plan for 2015 and set it in motion this weekend.

  • Comment number 42.

    I think the question is this - if Lancaster only has 5 games, then the question is surely going to be (certainly if England look as if they're going to crash to 5th in the 6N table) is for a player "Should I bust a gut for this man and possibly get injured" knowing full well he won't be the next England manager/coach? That's why you might have well as Lancaster in for a full RWC cycle.

  • Comment number 43.


    I can't believe you took the time to post that drivel. Scotland get penalties because of celtic referees? Sounds like it's you with the chip on your shoulder to be honest. Scotland and England are neighbours, so will of course be rivals and with Scotland being the smaller neighbour, of course it's a thrilll to challenge our bigger neighbour and brother. Doesn't mean we're dreaming of blood borne from 300 year old events. The Braveheart chat is completely outdated and only applies to a cretinous minority.

    If anything you have embarassed yourself and the good english supporters. personally, I'm going for a Scotland win and a hugely intense first half. Last quarter will see England re group and find their feet with Scots defending for their lives. Scotland 19- England 12

  • Comment number 44.

    Smackeyes, quote from Sarries coach Sanderson "Joel Tomkins core skills are second to none, as you would expect from a Rugby League Player",..... High praise indeed for Union?

  • Comment number 45.

    So many commenst saying that England are too inexperienced to win..yet its hardly like the experienced players have performed so well for us over the last few years...

  • Comment number 46.


    Bored sat in front of a computer at work.


  • Comment number 47.

    Looking forward to this. I hope we play some proper rugby and not that awful turgid stick it up your jumper we played last time we went to Murrayfield.

    I hope Lancaster has breathed some fresh air in to the England camp. The reason I was pleased to see Johnson and Co go was because of the turgid rugby we served up in the world cup. I thought our coaching team had learned a thing or two from the wins against Austrailia and then the dynamic way we played in the last 6N. To see us reverting back to that awful turgid way of play - we needed major change. Well done to Lancaster for taking the task on, this process should have started after the 2007 World Cup.

  • Comment number 48.

    Very disappointing to see the country with the largest playing base turning to the Southern Hemisphere to bring in rugby tourists to represent the country. How can a bloke like Botha have any idea of the pride to wear the England Shirt. I assume that Lancaster will bring in Peinaar to give the pep talk for the next game!

  • Comment number 49.

    48: Pretty disappointing to hear about Rugby League converts and 'foreigners'...again.

    Really looking forward to tomorrows game and really don't know how it's going to turn out. My head says that Scotland will dictate the set pieces but the backline actually looks exciting and at least we don't have to rely of Hodgson to have the kicks.

  • Comment number 50.

    Rugby tourist? Mo has settled here, is incredibly popular in Bedford (where he represented both Athletic and Blues) and is very passionate about his adopted country which he now calls home.

    Some people seem to have short memories. Martin Johnson played for New Zealand U21s before returning back to England. Sport is a global game now. Why is it not possible to have as much passion for yout adopted country? There are certainly plenty of native English who couldn't care about the country they are bown and raised in.

  • Comment number 51.

    It never ceases to amaze me how many people refer to the "dismal" World Cup campaign, as if that team had somehow under-achieved. Actually, they had NEVER shown the potential to be a contender at the World Cup. They went out at exactly the stage I expected prior to the tournament, and that their results and world ranking suggested. What's dismal about not repeating the miracle achieved by a nearly equally bad squad in 2007? They were just an extremely average bunch of players who got what they deserved.

    So now Lancaster has a rebuilding job to do. He's clearly decided that the baggage carried by most of those players outweighs the benefit of their experience and decided to start afresh. It's hard to question the logic, but he'll need the rub of the green in the first few minutes. With confidence, this team could be very good, but that confidence will be brittle at Murrayfield and likely to vanish very quickly if things go wrong early on.

    I'll still watch and cheer for a win, though. Especially as I've a Scottish colleague at the game and a Welsh one who'll doubtless join in on any gloating!

  • Comment number 52.

    jcb211 - my tongue was firmly in cheek whilst chuckling away to myself. Can't believe there still hasn't been anyone on here whinging about it though, they are usually pretty quick off the mark.

  • Comment number 53.

    I can't wait for the game!

    To be fair I don't see it really being fast free-flowing affair; it never is at Murrayfield. England will need all these young lads to keep cool heads. I don't think they really appreciate the cauldron atmosphere up there yet

    Scotland will start as they mean to go on - hard. They will try to dominate our forwards in the first exchanges, they have more experience in the forwards and this will be in their favour. For me the crucial point for our forwards will be the first scrum - Scotland will try their very best to get the nudge on, if we take one step back the mental battle is won - I don't see the tight five having enough to get back on top (am happy to be proven wrong though!)

    If we can hold the midfield we will do OK, I think Barritt will be a key player here - he is so solid in defence and it takes a lot to stop him

    I really hope Lancaster gets a shot at the job, I like his approach so far. Am in agreement with most on here with regards to the 'A' word! It's always been levelled at England no matter what. We could field 15 nuns and they would be accused of it

    Anyway - good luck to both Scotland and England, may the best team win

  • Comment number 54.

    Well games at Murrayfield are rarely classic viewing and to be honest I'd settle for a 1 point win, which I don't think England will get. Scotland have set their stall out early, though selections like Parks, and are making it clear they'll probably be playing for territory. Not much of a surprise really as this seems to be the way Robinson has been drilling them in for a while now.

    I'm hoping for a flowing, ball in hand, exciting win by expectiations are for a nervy, kick heavy battle won by Scotland.

    Oh and to rub it in I just pulled Allan Jacobsen out of the hat in the 1st try scored sweepstake.

  • Comment number 55.

    #54 D'oh!

    I have the joy of watching the game in a pub full of Scottish people :)

    Usually good fun though!

    This will be a big test for the youngsters, mentally and physically. We will see who the leaders really are if we end up behind in the scores in front of a baying Murrayfield. Will Robshaw, Hodgson etc have what it takes to stop heads from dipping and encourage a recovery?

  • Comment number 56.

    Smackeyes, no worries chief.

    I'm not too sure we'll get the usual mud fest battle of attrition this year. Despite it being very cold right now, it was been cold but very dry all week in central Scotland. Assuming we don't get rain or snow before 17.00 tomorrow I wouldn't be surprised to see the ball thrown around a little. Expect a good few dropped balls though, it is Scotland we're talking here! Handling errors are too common to those in blue jerseys. Wouldn't expect to see a few dropped balls from teh white jerseys too. They obviously have a lot of potential and skills but I felt they relide on Tuilangi to carry the ball in midfield. So with new faces and missing Manu, nerves might play a little. Maybe I'm wrong and they'll hammer Scotland but for the first time in a while I really feel Scotland SHOULD win this match and it will take something special from an England player or a moment of hideous madness a la Millemium Stadium 2010 for Scotland to throw it awaw. The first 20 mins wil be frantic with the scotttish back row hitting everything.

  • Comment number 57.

    I always spend the 6 Nations watching in various pubs and houses with friends from most of the countries taking part (need an Italian!!), which is great because it gives you an extra interest in all the games. Even though for me the main event this weekend is the match on Sunday, I'm so excited for it to all kick off tomorrow. Truly my favourite sporting contest in the World.

    Freezing temperatures in Paris as the French will almost certainly run riot against Italy, or, of course, almost certainly be absolutely awful. I'll avoid using everyone's favourite word for describing the French rugby team...

    Then Scotland - England where, for me, the interest lies in seeing how England are going to play. Let's face it we all know that Scotland, with Parks at 10, are going to play the up-and-under game and are about 1/100 to score a try. But for England it's a chance to start afresh with a promising group of young players, a new manager and a country desperate for a bit of rugby. Even as a Welshman I want a stronger England (to a point) as it makes for a better competition and none of this "you won a GS in a week era" chat we got after 2008 ;)

    As for Sunday... well I won't intrude on this blog with that...

  • Comment number 58.

    I genuinely have no idea how this game will go, well that’s not true, I suspect it will be a tight nervy affair with one team just edging it, but which team I don't know. England as discussed have a new(ish) team that could either thrive or falter, Scotland have Dan Parks which already puts us on the back foot. Add to that Clancy doesn't think we can scrum so any advantage there is lost as he'll just penalise us regardless. Our backs will rarely see the ball apart from when its hurtling off Dan parks boot into the waiting arms of Foden & co only to come straight back at us.

    It’s safe to say I've gone from being massively confident (happens every year, you'd think I would have learned by now) to being massively pessimistic to currently a state of uncertainly. All I'm hoping for at the moment is that both teams play well and Scotland get a try or two (we've surely earned the right to score one by now) and Laidlaw gets a chance to prove to Robinson that he should be the man in possession of the no. 10 jersey rather than Disaster Parks.

    Best of luck, hope the best team wins.

  • Comment number 59.

    @38, eh? You seem to think I'm suggesting Ashton and all England players are saints..? Don't know where you got that from. We've our fair share of boors, idiots arrogant sods and wannabe celebs, but probably no more than that or anyone else. Doesn't fit popular prejudice that though does it?

    Shane Williams can delight the home crowd with a show of finger pointing, roly poly, fist pumping exuberance before he grounds the ball and he's loved for being a great little showman. But when Ashton does it, it's because he's an arrogant English pr*ck lol. Let's be fair, it had nothing to do with the world cup, he was being called that by some for doing it before anyone knew anything else about him, simply because he wore the wrong jersey.

    Bannockburn this, Cromwell that, Owain Glyndower the other, Falklands some more and so on and so on.... the English have to mug along cast as the big plodding bully boy 'Anyone But England' bad guys more often than not, damned if they win, damned if they don't, with anything and everything they say and do twisted to justify all manner of abuse and 'retaliation' come kick off. It's different rules for England and it comes with the territory. All Ashton can do is make it less easy for his detractors to have a pop at his character and keep scoring tries, maybe ease up a little on the dwarf tossing during an awful world cup for example.

    If you're an Englishman and you're hung up on being loved and lauded by all, don't play for England, go and play for the Welsh child snatchers! ;)

  • Comment number 60.

    @RowlandC - Do you reckon maybe it's just a question of numbers? For example with a population 10 times that of Scotland, and even more for Wales, for every idiot fan who likes to wind-up others from the Celtic nations there'd be 10 from England. Just a thought.

  • Comment number 61.

    Cannot wait for it all to start. Intrigued to see how England will play, have doubts in some areas, but admire Lancaster's positivity and approach so far. Hope that it's reflected on the pitch. Close to call tomorrow, think Scotland will edge it.

    Also looking forward to seeing France under Saint-Andre. And Sunday's game is massive. Ireland probably favourites with club form and home advantage, but I think Wales may do it, particulalry with today's fitness news. I then obviously hope both teams lose at Twickenham...!

  • Comment number 62.

    I am Scottish and I am excited about this match on an England perspective. Will be interesting to see what this England team can do. I would be happy with an England win if it means one of them stops Dan Parks from ever dawning the Scotland 10 strip again.
    Anyways will be an interesting match what ever happens.

  • Comment number 63.

    "The rugby we play isn't as structured - it's more open and free-flowing."-Dan cole

    This is what I have been wanting to hear from an England player for the past 10 years!

    The players under MJ played with so much fear and anxiety and was sometimes despertae to watch.

    Should be interesting to see how we play

  • Comment number 64.


    You write as If you are having a heated pub dicussion........... Im so sorry but you dont make any sense! ;)

  • Comment number 65.

    Don't mind if England lose with an inexperienced team so long as we see clear signs of promise for the future and they come through it mentally unscarred. Wales took a chance with their youngsters at the WC and they all came through it with reputations and experience enhanced.
    For Scotland, continuity under Robinson has led to a gradual restoration of a much more competitive team that retains the fierceness of old and just needs self-belief to start scoring and winning. Wales were at the same stage 5 years ago and have now moved up to a level of expectation of success. This could be the year Scotland start to show the results of the lessons learned from all those agonizing losses in recent seasons.

    Still think England and Wales will be fighting over 4th place this year.

  • Comment number 66.

    I am looking forward to the game, even though it is hard to say how it will go. It might be a step into the unknown, but after suffering 8 years of players picked on reputation not form, where we were more or less guaranteed solidity but nothing more, it is good to see a team that actually has potential.

    I am still not sure about the back row, as I am not sure Robshaw is a 7, but he is exactly what England need as a player and captain, somebody who will lead by example both on and off the field.

    42. At 12:15 3rd Feb 2012, GrandFalconRailroad wrote:
    "I think the question is this - if Lancaster only has 5 games, then the question is surely going to be (certainly if England look as if they're going to crash to 5th in the 6N table) is for a player "Should I bust a gut for this man and possibly get injured" knowing full well he won't be the next England manager/coach? That's why you might have well as Lancaster in for a full RWC cycle."

    Although that coould be a blessing in disguise. If anybody in the squad is playing for the coach, or to impress the coach, then it would be good to find out who they are and get rid of them. Giving 100% for ever second they are on the pitch is the minimum requirement for an England player not a bonus, regardless of who the coach is.

    #2, I fail to see how Brand Haskell would help, he is hardly a player who is going to offer leadership and a calm head.

  • Comment number 67.

    Was really looking forward to the match: new England team and Scotland aiming to justify their favourites tag. Imagaine my horror when the 2 words that will guarantee an England victory appeared before me on the match preview: yes 'George Clancy'.

  • Comment number 68.

    It's currently Scotland A 35 - English Saxons 0 in the 2nd string game.

    Who says that Scotland can't score tries?

    We wont mention the U20 score though!!!!!!

  • Comment number 69.

    The 6 Nations is THE paramount rugby competition in the world in my very humble opinion, just has such a rich and special flavour to it, can not wait for it to start!

    I'd say tomorrows game will be decided in the first 20 minutes. The Scots are going to come out and try and smash Eng off the park, obviously, and it'll just be a case of whether the new faces can take the cauldron of intensity and passion that is Murreyfield. If they can then England have a good shout at winning. But then again even if they do this Scot outfit are more than capable of getting the win, although don't expect it to be a feast of tries, this is Scotland after all (my tongue is firmly jammed into my cheek).

    'Rugby tourist' or not I think Botha needs will need to have a big game, him and Palmer will have to really get stuck into those rucks and try and blast past the inevitable presence of any one of the Scot back row. I'd expect to see Barritt defending at 12 on set pieces purely to give Hodgson a bit of help when Lamont comes charging down his channel, either that or Croft/Robshaw's gonna have to have wings on their respective boots to cover.

    All in all exciting times for England, lets hope the new look isn't just for the media but for on the pitch as well and as an ardent England fan I would like to see an England win, although a gallant loss would suffice. Lets get this 6 nations going!

    Oh and Fuzzy Duck, if you don't like union, don't watch union. Personally i'm a fan of both, I just don't really understand why you have to sully these blogs with your myopic views when all we want is a nice civilised chat about what's going to (hopefully!) be an enthralling, well-fought and entertaining campaign of international rugby. :)

  • Comment number 70.

    I'm a little tired of all this Scottish bravado about how they are going to smash the English team. RWC for Scotland was poor and they don't appear to have an answer to a fundamental to winning rugby matches...tries. Good man stu Lancaster for opening up the opportunities to all those fully fit professionals banging out performances week in week out. If Scotland lose I personally can't wait for the comments as I can seriously see an unpicking of the auld enemy in murrYfield by an inexperienced but fired up professional side ready to justify their selection. Wake up Scotland this could be pretty embarrassing. Good luck.

  • Comment number 71.

    Looking forward to the game in a masochistic kind of way as an Englishman. England will lose...but who will come out of it with their reputation enhanced?

  • Comment number 72.

    plastikpaddy - the bravado during the Heineken cup was how London Irish and Bath would smash Edinburgh and Glasgow - that didn't happen (3-1 to Scottish sides on that one). Then last night the English media would have us believe that the Saxons on th back of a good win against the Wolfhounds were going to run up a cricket score against a young Scotland A side, final score 35 - 0 for Scotland A.

    The bravado from what i can see has always been that English sides just need to turn up against Scottish opposition. I don't subscribe to the hype that Scotland will smash England and i think most Scottish fans don't believe that will happen either. However, the arrogance of the English written press has been breathtaking at times over the last few months.

    I don't think that Scotland need to "wake up" as you put it, we're fairly level headed, you should try it.

    may the best team win, hopefully by playing some watchable rugby.

  • Comment number 73.

    All the talk is of Scotland, but as a season ticket holder at Sarries I feel I have a bit of inside knowledge. Watch out for Brad Barritt punching holes in attack (don't think I've EVER seen him not make the gainline) and big tackles in defence. Watch closely to see who is first receiver for different plays, it will switch between Hodgson, Farrell and Barritt and will keep the Scottish back row guessing. Farrell is one of the best kickers I've ever seen, almost as good as Wilko... as he demonstrated by completely showing up Flood in last years Prem final. Back three with lots of pace and unlike Scotland lots of finishing skills! Considering the weather it will come down to the packs. Botha is an animal on his day and I think, scrums aside which Scotland should dominate, the pack battle will be very close. Whoever gives away fewest penalties will win. England know what Scotland are about but Scotland will certainly have a few unanswered questions about the England game... may the best team win!

  • Comment number 74.

    Great result for Scotland A against a pretty experienced saxons side. I would eat humble pie if the national team did the same today but I can't see it happening without new firepower that clearly exists in the A squad.
    I am actually more interested in the Ireland v Wales clash tmrw as that could be magic.

  • Comment number 75.

    FWIW mate, i agree. the finishing skills of our 1st XV pale into insignificance compared to the young lads in the a side.

    I feel we've played into Englands' hands by picking the side that we have today. Time will tell.

    Given the weather forecast i don't hold out much hope of running rugby either!

    Prediction is Scotland 12 - England 22

  • Comment number 76.

    How long to kick-off? Just getting the radio ready. Can't wait for the off. Thankfully Eng truly rubbish at RWC and new lads in for the better.

    vs Scots ... turning point ... ENG to win, I've got a wager on.

  • Comment number 77.

    Well done to Lancaster and the team.

    Wished we had run the ball a bit more. The work ethic of the team was faultless. Although the narrow defence concerns me. I hope Morgan starts next week and we should also welcome back Flood and Lawes.


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