Roar of the ‘Tartan Army’ could be too much for Red Rose to deal with

Scotland celebrate with the Calcutta Cup. PA
Scotland celebrate with the Calcutta Cup. PA
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England have managed only two wins in Scotland this century.

It is a staggering statistic considering the Red Rose have been to two World Cup finals, winning one, and have won the Six Nations four times since the turn of the Millennium.

By contrast, Scotland’s World Cup best is a pair of quarter-final defeats in 2003 and 2007, while their last continental title came in 1999, when the championship was still only contested by five nations.

Indeed, they have finished third only twice during that period and above England only once.

Yet against the old enemy, on home soil, with the noise of the Tartan Army drowning out Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Scotland the brave have proved largely unbeatable.

Granted, there have only been six games between the two at Murrayfield, while the 1990s saw England win four consecutive Calcutta Cup matches away from home. Yet a nation as prolific as England should have registered more than the two wins they achieved either side of their World Cup triumph of 2003.

That 35-13 victory over the Scots on February 24, 2004, was their last win against the old enemy north of the border.

Since then it has been a pair of defeats and a 15-15 draw two years ago that was not a game for the rugby idealist.

If anything it summed up a rivalry that has become all-too attritional and reliant on accurate goal-kickers.

That veritable try-fest of 2004 was the last time any player crossed the whitewash, three long fixtures ago.

But where the present falls short, the history of this duel is still enough to set pulses racing.

Scotland and England have been slugging it out since March 27, 1871, in what is the oldest rivalry in the sport.

England have won 69 of the 129 contests, Scotland 42, with 18 matches drawn.

The men from the south may have the upper hand but the first game of this century set the pattern for Scotland’s unfathomable dominance of England in this century.

Sir Clive Woodward’s team went into Murrayfield on April 2, 2000, chasing a grand slam in the first championship of the Six Nations era.

Scotland, although defending champions, had not won a match, not even against the novice Italians.

But the recent past and form counted for nothing as Scotland won 19-13, with Duncan Hodge – a man who would go on to play for Leeds Tykes – scoring all their points.

“The memories of 12 years ago are still as fresh as they can be given the passage of time, but that game just sums up the history between the two teams in this fixture,” said Hodge, now 37, and Scotland’s kicking coach since before the World Cup.

“It was the last game of the tournament, they needed to win to clinch the grand slam and we had lost all of our previous games.

“So there was a lot at stake for both sides.

“England played very well in the first half, and should have been more points ahead than they managed to get.

“I even kicked a penalty on the stroke of half-time to be only 10-9 down.

“The weather turned in the second half and we played better tactically in the second half than they did.”

Although Scotland won, no one has an answer to why England repeatedly struggle at Murrayfield.

When asked to put his finger on why Scotland have had the upper hand in recent years, Hodge said: “It’s a hard one to explain. It’s strange because of what England have won and we have not won.

“We have played well against England these past few times and the weather has not been particularly great for the last two games, which has helped us.

“In some of the seasons we have not had a lot to play for but this year with it being the first game of the championship, it’s massive for both teams.

“Scotland have a great crowd as well at Murrayfield.

“It’s intimidating, and when that noise cascades down from the stands it can inspire the players.

“Every game in a Six Nations is massive and from a playing and coaching perspective we don’t treat the England game as being any bigger than any other opponent.

“It all depends on the situation the game is played in, the stage of the tournament at that time.”

In the immediate term Scotland have a few scores to settle with England, particularly in the wake of the 16-12 defeat they suffered in the final pool game at last year’s World Cup at Eden Park, Auckland.

“We were unlucky that night,” reflected Hodge, who played 16 times for Leeds during the 2003-04 season.

“A couple of decisions and breaks of the ball didn’t quite go our way at key points of the game. “It was a massive blow to lose and to be sent home early, so we’ll have a few wrongs to right on Saturday.”

Future Leeds back Iain Balshaw was among the try scorers in England’s last win at Murrayfield in 2004.

Danny Grewcock, Ben Cohen and Josh Lewsey also scored in a convincing victory that was enhanced by three conversions and three penalties by Paul Grayson.

Another former Leeds man Andy Gomarsall played scrum-half and went on to win 35 caps but, like Hodge, was at a loss to explain just why Scotland have the hex sign over England in this fixture. “If I had the solution to that one I’d be a rich man,” said Gomarsall.

Interim head coach Stuart Lancaster would gladly trade money for a winning start in Edinburgh this weekend, but recent history suggests a difficult task awaits.

Murrayfield down the years

2000: Scotland 19-13 England – Duncan Hodge’s late try and conversion seals the win and ends England’s grand slam hopes

2002: Scotland 3-29 England – Comfortable win for Sir Clive Woodward’s men; Jason Robinson (2), Mike Tindall and Ben Cohen with the tries

2004: Scotland 13-35 England – England’s last win at Murrayfield courtesy of tires by Iain Balshaw, Cohen, Danny Grewcock and Josh Lewsey

2006: Scotland 18-12 England – Five Chris Paterson penalties and a Dan Parks drop goal cancel out four Charlie Hodgson penalties

2008: Scotland 15-9 England – Paterson and Parks share five kicks to Jonny Wilkinson’s three

2010: Scotland 15-15 England – Wilkinson and Toby Flood cancel out four Parks penalties and a drop goal