For many, many years I had the same image as my laptop screen saver. The photo was of Andy Nicol and his Scottish team-mates celebrating the victory over my then England team to win the Calcutta Cup in 2000. That defeat in the rain at Murrayfield was the worst moment of my coaching career.
Why did I subject myself to seeing him every day? He reminded me that he should never let me get too carried away. The image of Nicol and his cheerful companions brought back many painful memories of that weekend. He reminded me to take the rough with the smooth.
After the pre-match guile, my England team were certainly on the wrong side that day as we fell short of what would have been a Grand Slam in the first Six Nations. I think about it constantly. But in a good way.
In 2000, Italy had just joined the Five Nations and beat Scotland on the opening weekend. England won their first four matches and were on their way to sweeping. Until that moment it was one of my favorite campaigns. We played simply incredible rugby.
But I made a very poor selection for that game against Scotland and the conditions were atrocious. Martin Johnson was available for selection, but I stuck with Garath Archer and Simon Shaw, who were playing very well at lock. It wasn’t his fault we lost, but in the conditions and at a frenetic Murrayfield, Johnson could have made the difference. We will never know!
England were on their way to sweeping everything before suffering a shock defeat to Scotland in 2000.
Scotland celebrate victory during the Six Nations Championship at Murrayfield in 2000
Scotland played much better than us despite losing their first four championship games and won 19-13. The truth is that they should have won by more. It was a sobering afternoon.
Nicol is one of my favorite players and a fantastic guy, but I will never forgive him for that! After the match, Scotland manager Sir Ian McGeechan said we should both be happy because England had won the Championship title and Scotland had claimed the Calcutta Cup.
Sir Clive Woodward, Mail Sport columnist and England’s World Cup-winning head coach
I looked at him and just laughed. Even I could see the funny side of his comment.
Be happy? For us it was always Grand Slam or nothing. I was devastated at such a terrible loss and performance!
I will always remember that defeat, but I am lucky to have other great memories of facing Scotland. That’s the thing about international rugby: it’s about winning. Win and you will be happy. Lose and it’s the end of the world.
That fine line between success and failure will be seen again on Saturday, when England’s class of 2024 take on Scotland in Edinburgh.
It will be very, very difficult for England but I am more confident in their chances now that Steve Borthwick has named his team. The decision to drop Freddie Steward and play George Furbank at full-back is the first major decision he has made since he took over.
Well done, Steve. It is the first time that he has caught everyone off guard with a selection. As an international coach you have to have the courage of your convictions. Selection is an art. It is the most important part of the role at the testing level. You live or die according to your choice.
Whatever happens in Edinburgh, Borthwick has made the right decision. Steward is a fantastic defensive back. But to beat the best teams and be number one in the world, which must be England’s goal, you have to have a genuine attacking threat and pace to burn in defence. All the best teams in rugby history have had genuine speed on the flanks and full-backs.
Borthwick’s decision over Furbank comes as a surprise. But he is a different player to Steward in the sense that he poses a genuine threat to the opposing defense as an option to break the line.
Steve Borthwick made the big decision to leave Freddie Steward for the Scotland clash.
George Furbank’s superb form for Northampton has earned him a call-up to the England squad
Steward, for all his qualities under the high ball, doesn’t do that. Last year I said that Steward’s best long-term position for England could be centre. I maintain that opinion. Furbank has also been in sensational form, for Northampton. He will come into the game against Scotland as a very different player than the one who struggled in his debut against France in 2020.
Furbank is joined by a returning Ollie Lawrence in the centre. These are two positive changes. After two victories, it would be easy to continue with the same XV, but it is surprising what a new face can contribute to a team’s performance. Ellis Genge has also returned to start at loosehead prop. The English team has pace and power. I like it a lot.
Fraser Dingwall is unlucky to drop out but Lawrence’s form for Bath means he had to play once he recovered from injury. The key for England is to use Lawrence to the best of his ability. Lawrence can be a shock-and-shock center, but that won’t be enough for England. All the best teams can handle a purely physical threat these days. Lawrence is much, much more than that. He is a brilliant runner in the wide channels. He is fast. England need to play in a way that allows them to utilize his strengths.
When she began her career, Ma’a Nonu was all about physicality. But the All Black great evolved his game to be the only one who came close to Will Greenwood and Mike Tindall as arguably the best all-round center in international rugby. He had it all.
I wish Manu Tuilagi had done the same in terms of learning new skills. Tuilagi has always been a great transporter. But you need more. Lawrence can do it all, so I want to see England play a game that isn’t just about looking for contact. Let’s put Lawrence and Furbank in space and look at attacking rugby.
England must find a way to stop Scottish playmaker Finn Russell at Murrayfield on Saturday.
Scotland also likes to attack. If England get their new lightning defense wrong, Finn Russell will wipe them out in attack. England’s defense needs to arrive with speed and in line.
In wins over Italy and Wales, we have seen occasions where England’s defensive line has become disjointed and they have become trapped. If that happens on Saturday, they will pay the price. But if they can combine a strong defense with Lawrence, victory is possible.
That would take England to three wins from three and set up a big clash with Ireland. England are more than capable of achieving victory.
My screensaver is now a photo of my two granddaughters. My hope is that, unlike me, Borthwick doesn’t need to have a motivational image from Saturday’s game on his laptop for as long as I do!