Martin Johnson has placed England on a war footing ahead of tomorrow’s Calcutta Cup game with a “desperate” and winless Scotland side at Twickenham.
England, unbeaten after three matches, are on the grand slam trail for the first time since Johnson was captain in 2003, when they won the title and went on to lift the World Cup.
Scotland, in contrast, have lost to France, Wales and Ireland so far this RBS Six Nations and they are without a win at Twickenham since 1983.
Johnson has seen no signs of complacency from his improving team – but he warned England will have to expect the unexpected from Andy Robinson’s Scotland.
To reinforce the point, Johnson quoted Captain Harry Parker, the wounded serviceman who addressed England on the eve of their record victory over Australia in November.
“No plan survives first contact with the enemy,” said Johnson, who has made just one enforced change from England’s 17-9 victory over France with Alex Corbisiero replacing injured prop Andrew Sheridan.
“We have to be smart. They will have things ready for this game that we haven’t seen all tournament.
“This squad is moving in the right direction. Our best now is better than it was a year ago – our top end is better.
“But no one is patting themselves on the back. Luxury and comfort are not words you associate with playing international rugby.
“We have earned everything we have got so far, nothing has come by chance. We have to do that again because if we don’t get it right we know what can happen.
“It doesn’t always go your way because the opposition are always putting all their effort and hard work into beating you.
“There is years and years of history behind this game, which makes it exciting. It is what makes the Six Nations fun.
“England against Scotland, Wales, France, Ireland – we have got a history with everyone. There is an axe to grind.”
Captain Parker himself had been quoting the German First World War field marshal and war strategist Helmuth von Moltke. Sunday’s Calcutta Cup strategists – Johnson and Robinson – know each other well from their successful days working as captain and coach with England.
They each boast a World Cup winner’s medal and the same steely determination. And Johnson knows how much Robinson will be hurting after Scotland’s disappointing performances in recent weeks.
“We have been through a lot together when he was coaching England. I played with Andy and against him and you won’t find a more passionate rugby man. He wants to win, he’s a very competitive guy,” Johnson said. “So are we. That is why it is good fun watching rugby.”
After the injury woes England suffered 18 months ago, Johnson has placed a great deal of stock in consistency of selection during this championship.
The only position where he has had to make changes all tournament is at loose-head prop, where Corbisiero has now twice taken over from injury-jinxed Sheridan.
Fly-half Toby Flood starts after overcoming the Achilles problem that forced him off early against France, and England have been able to include Tom Croft among the replacements.
The Leicester flanker has recovered from the fractured shoulder he suffered against South Africa in the autumn and proven his fitness in three appearances for the Tigers.
“As a team we’ve got more strings to our bow now than last year but we can be better,” Johnson added. “The more we are together the better we should be and that’s looking forward to the World Cup which should be exciting for us and what we, as a team, can do.
“We have had some consistency and that core is there so when you bring players in it’s easier for them to play well because of the continuity of what we’re doing.
“We have that confidence and understanding from being together, we’ve got a pretty good balance and haven’t just played one way through the tournament or even through games.
“We’ve been a little bit more consistent game to game and it’s starting to have that feel of a tournament getting to the knockout stages – and that’s good.”
England: B Foden (Northampton); C Ashton (Northampton), M Tindall (Gloucester, capt), S Hape (Bath), M Cueto (Sale Sharks); T Flood (Leicester), B Youngs (Leicester); A Corbisiero (London Irish), D Hartley (Northampton), D Cole (Leicester), L Deacon (Leicester), T Palmer (Stade Francais), T Wood (Northampton), J Haskell (Stade Francais), N Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: S Thompson (Leeds Carnegie), P Doran-Jones (Gloucester), S Shaw (Wasps), T Croft (Leicester), D Care (Harlequins), J Wilkinson (Toulon), M Banahan (Bath).
Scotland: C Paterson (Edinburgh); S Danielli (Ulster), J Ansbro (Northampton), S Lamont (Scarlets), M Evans (Glasgow); R Jackson (Glasgow), R Lawson (Gloucester); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), R Ford (Edinburgh), M Low (Glasgow), R Gray (Glasgow, A Kellock (Glasgow, capt), N Hines (Leinster), J Barclay (Glasgow), K Brown (Saracens).
Replacements: S Lawson (Gloucester), G Cross (Edinburgh), R Vernon (Glasgow), A Strokosch (Gloucester), M Blair (Edinburgh), D Parks (Cardiff Blues), N De Luca (Edinburgh).
Referee: Romain Poite (France).