Continuity and change for Scotland and England before Calcutta Cup
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | December 27, 2015
February 6th, 2016 is the date for one of the most interesting Calcutta Cup clashes in recent memory, as Scotland and England – the latter under new management – get their Six Nations campaigns underway at Murrayfield.
It will be first-ever foreign Red Rose coach Eddie Jones‘ debut, as well as marking the Scots returning to action after their agonising and controversial single point loss to Australia in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals.
While rugby purists may be more fascinated by defending Six Nations champions Ireland beginning their bid to win a third consecutive title against Wales the following day, the media storm shall inevitably surround “Tasmanian devil” Jones and his fortunes north of the border.
England alter almost everything
Auld Enemies England and Scotland have gone in different directions since both falling to the Wallabies at different stages of the last Rugby World Cup. A pool stage exit as hosts was unacceptable for the RFU, so Stuart Lancaster lost his job as Red Rose boss and his key backroom staff were belatedly let go.
Coral remain confident England will bounce back from their disappointment, however, and rate them as narrow 15/8 favourites to win the 2016 Six Nations. They are also 2/1 to complete a Triple Crown of victories over fellow British Isles outfits, and 9/2 chances for a Grand Slam.
In the first few weeks since taking up the post, Jones has done everything possible to distance himself from the previous Red Rose regime – one that will ultimately be seen by history as failures.
Backroom roles for Jones disciples
Mike Catt, Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree have left England’s coaching set-up, with Jones seeking “new thoughts and new ideas”, yet from familiar faces to the Aussie.
Despite Bristol’s reluctance to release former Red Rose captain Steve Borthwick from his position as forwards coach, his long-standing relationship with and ties to Jones came through.
First serving as a player under Jones at Saracens and then as his assistant with the Japanese national team, who notably beat South Africa this past autumn, Borthwick is a key lieutenant of England’s new boss.
It’s a similar story with the other backroom appointment made in the winds of change surrounding the Red Rose. Paul Gustard got his first coaching job at Saracens during 2008/09 when Jones was director of rugby at the Aviva Premiership outfit, and the defence guru now gets that gig with England.
“I’m really pleased to have Paul join us, as he is a quality coach who has done some fantastic things at Saracens,” Jones said of Gustard. “He has overseen Saracens’ growth as a team, he has produced an aggressive defence system there and we are hoping he can do the same for England.”
How wise is change of captain?
Having installed his own acolytes in the background, Jones is also seeking to change the Red Rose image on the field. Speculation remains rife that Lancaster’s captain Chris Robshaw will be relieved of the armband, yet the Harlequins flanker is prepared to graciously step aside.
“If Eddie decides to go to someone else, I’d respect that decision and fully back the person who comes in,” Robshaw said. Failure at the Rugby World Cup again has consequences going forward, but the player still appears to have an international future.
Northampton Saints hooker Dylan Hartley is a strong contender to replace Robshaw, despite his notoriously poor disciplinary record and missing much of the festive period with concussion.
If he does name Hartley as England skipper, then Jones will need an understudy in case his candidate continues to pick up suspensions, like the one received for a headbutt that ruled Hartley out of the Rugby World Cup.
Should choosing this front row player with a bad boy reputation as captain come to pass, it is clear Jones wants to send a message to Six Nations rugby rivals that the Red Rose will not be wilting in similar fashion to the autumn. The new England will be tough.
Scotland secure same staff
Just as a Red Rose will always draw the eye more than the thistles around it in that old adage, England have made many headlines and garnered much more media attention than Scotland.
While almost everything – the rule about playing abroad apart – has been given the green light to change by the RFU, Scottish rugby is all about continuity.
Vern Cotter, the head coach of the Tartan Team, signed a new one-year contract extension before the Rugby World Cup, and now assistants Jonathan Humphreys and Matt Taylor have followed suit.
There’s a definite sense of the Scots building something, with Cotter hailing the deals for his backroom duo as “very good news for the national team and for the development of future Scotland players”.
Assistants predict bright future for Tartan Army
Defence coach Taylor, meanwhile, is eyeing a Six Nations challenge in the future. “Our performances in the Rugby World Cup are a really good example of how this team is moving forward,” he said.
“I think there are bigger and better things ahead as we target the Six Nations over the coming years. I feel that we’ve made massive strides in all the areas of our play.”
Humphreys, who is responsible for the forwards, added: “There’s bags of potential in this team. Over the next 18 months or so, I believe we’ll really start to see this team realise that potential and it’ll be hugely satisfying to be part of something that could be quite special.”
Just six of Cotter’s crew that he took to the Rugby World Cup were aged 30 or over, so the Tartan team is a young one and, if they can overcome naive or even slow out the blocks first-half displays, the hype may just be lived up to, but how soon?
Punters can get 16/1 on Scotland winning the Six Nations, but they remain a work in progress and will have to address just two Calcutta Cup wins since 2000 (and both at home) to be worth a wager.
Check out Coral’s rugby union archives to relive a memorable 2015 in this sport.