It was a footnote to his Trevor Chappell-inspired volley last week but Eddie Jones also stoked the fires before Saturday week’s Calcutta Cup by referencing the burden of expectation on a high-flying Scotland side who have not won at Twickenham since 1983.
The message from Scotland in response has been clear. Where Jones sees a burden, Scotland see an opportunity. When the England head coach speaks of expectation, Scotland talk about enjoyment. And with two hugely impressive wins already in the competition, Scotland are refusing to feel the weight of history. “They’ve got the most players in the world to choose from, they’ve got the biggest budget in world rugby,” said the defence coach, Matt Taylor. “They’ve won 17 in a row, they’re second in the world, so maybe Eddie can put his feet up this week. Who knows?”
There can be little chance of that. If both sides play to their maximum, England should claim a record-equalling 18th straight victory. But while Scotland have reached their highest gear in the first half against Ireland and the second against Wales, the defending champions have barely done so throughout and were denied the chance to play any rugby against Italy, according to Jones.
Scotland therefore realise that this is among their best chances for a win at Twickenham but are nonetheless content to put the pressure back on Jones’s side. “I don’t think the players [feel a burden of expectation],” said Taylor. “I don’t think many people will be expecting us to win down there but we’re confident in our ability and we’ll go down there confident.
“As coaches, you listen to other coaches’ comments. Sometimes there is a hidden meaning or an agenda they want to push. If you ask us if we’re going to win the game, we can beat anyone on our day if we prepare well. That’s the beauty of sport, we’ve seen over the last couple of years the underdog beating the top team in many cases. We’re going to have to prepare well and execute well but there’s no reason why we can’t win.”
For Scotland, this is a unique position to be in. Going into the penultimate round they are still in the hunt for the title and if anyone needed proof of their progress, it is reflected in the latest world rankings and an all-time high of fifth.
“We haven’t been in this position but we’re riding the crest of doing really well,” said Taylor. “So many times at this point we’ve been out of it. It’s been great to be involved with the team in the last couple of years because you can see the progression. We took some heavy knocks a couple of years ago and we’ve had some tight losses and now we’ve come out the other side.
“Of course, we can go down there with the mindset to win, if we execute well, but we know it’s going to be very difficult. It will probably be the most difficult game we’ve played all tournament.”
England may be boosted by the return of Billy Vunipola, who is set to make his comeback from a knee injury for Saracens on Sunday, which would only add to the ball-carrying ballast in Jones’s ranks. Taylor has also been impressed by the impact of Ben Te’o, who was among the try scorers on his first England start against Italy, and acknowledged the threat posed by the former rugby league international.
“They’ve got really good carriers all over the field. When you look at the forward pack, anyone in the forward pack carries really well,” he added. “We’ve got to be aware of that. I think Ben Te’o has come in and done a good job. He gets them over the gain-line well so we’ll need to be aware of him.
“Defensively they are really hard and quick. We’ll have to adapt to that. We’ve got some plans about how we’re going to work our attack. But across the board they’ve got a very good team and the results show that.”