EXILED Gordon Ross readily concedes he has been based in England too many years now to be able to speak for too long about the Scottish spirit emboldened on Calcutta Cup day at Murrayfield.
He left Edinburgh in 2002 to join Leeds Tykes and, more than a decade later, after spells with French outfit Castres, Saracens and, currently, London Welsh, the veteran fly-half has yet to return to his homeland.
Nevertheless, as someone who has experienced what it actually feels like to beat the Auld Enemy – Scotland have won just three of the last 25 Calcutta Cup matches – he is well placed to offer some insight.
Ross, who was man of the match when Leeds enjoyed their finest hour beating Bath in the 2005 Powergen Cup final, played 25 Tests for his country.
“I played England twice, starting once and from the bench in the other,” he recalled to the Yorkshire Post.
“We got hammered at Twickenham (43-22) in 2005 but the following year I came on at Murrayfield in a game where there was no tries.
“We won 18-12, Chris Paterson kicked five penalties and let’s say it was a very enjoyable experience.
“I’ll always remember it just because there is so much tradition and build-up to this fixture as we try to beat England.
“They are the biggest enemy we have and so much rides on the contest. Unfortunately, though, as much as I don’t want to say it I think England will win on Saturday as – despite losing in France – I was very impressed with how they played last week.
“They created real intensity, had a high skill level too and played good football but, probably, taking off Danny Care and Vunipola cost them the match.
“It was a big call. You’ve seen Stuart Lancaster take off his nine and ten in other games and win but unfortunately it backfired in Paris.
“Scotland will be passionate and compete for the first hour this week.
“ They’ll certainly be in the game but England will then have too much.”
The big talking point in the Scottish camp is the controversial axing of captain Kelly Brown, the openside who is replaced by uncapped Chris Fusaro.
Ross, who played in the 2003 World Cup and featured in his final Test against South Africa at Port Elizabeth three years later, admitted: “I am surprised to see Kelly Brown dropped.
“To make someone captain one week and then leave him out altogether – not just from the side but the matchday squad entirely – the next week is strange.
“(Coach) Scott Johnson will have his reasons for it but, for me, one of Brown’s best abilities is being really physical at the breakdown and, given the conditions set for Saturday, I think that will be a massive part of the game.
“Johnson felt he had to make changes after the Ireland match which was poor.
“As always, effort and endeavour was there but Scotland still are not quite clinical enough and they never really looked like scoring a try.
“Stuart Hogg is an exciting player at 15 and they have to try and get him some space in an attacking position to improve their chances against England.”
Ross turns 36 next month but is still going strong for Welsh as they bid to return to the Premiership.
A quality goalkicker, he also brought plenty of attacking dare to Leeds during his four years at Headingley, playing a pivotal role in their famous relegation escape of 2005 and also featuring during their Heineken Cup adventure. He amassed 702 points in 99 games before departing for France in 2006 when they did suffer the drop.
Ironically, Ross is now trying to prevent the West Yorkshire club’s latest return to the top flight; he was hugely influential in Welsh’s 19-10 victory last month which ended Leeds’s eight-game winning run.
“They probably had a bit of an off-day against us,” he said, his erstwhile team now sat third in the Championship.
“Watching Leeds before they’ve been my favourite team as they play so much good rugby.
“They’ve a lot of very good players, their skill levels are very high and they are clearly well-drilled.
“They’ll definitely be in the top four and then we’ll see what happens then.
“I’d love to see Leeds go back up – but just not this year,” added Ross.
“The club is so well run, they have quality facilities and I had some great years there so hopefully they will end up in the Premiership again.”
Ross, who is also assistant coach with Welsh, will look to break more Yorkshire hearts again tomorrow; Welsh host current leaders Rotherham Titans knowing a win will see them reclaim top spot.
Although his pace has slowed somewhat, Ross’s footballing nous remains and he has embraced Championship action following his side’s relegation last year.
“It’s a big change in culture having come down but the coaching staff have done extremely well helping us in a changing environment,” he explained.
“There’s a great set of boys here and we’ve done well so far but we just need more consistency to our game.
“Hopefully we can keep in the top four and obviously we’ve got a big game against Rotherham on Sunday.
“But then, come April and May, we’ll get some of our players back from injury and give ourselves a real chance in the play-offs,” added Ross.