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CHRIS FOY: England can NEVER compete with Scotland’s hostility or harness history in the same way as many opponents… so which rivalry matters most to the English?


Scotland will ‘welcome’ the English with typical hostility on Saturday to prove yet again that they have a passion for that rivalry which is not matched by the visitors from south of Hadrian’s Wall.

They will be crammed on to the upper walkways at Murrayfield when the England coach arrives – leaning over to offer some choice words and maybe even the odd projectile for good measure. The shouts, boos and chants will let Steve Borthwick and his squad know that they are well and truly out of their comfort zone.

There will be proper edge and tension, as always – which is exactly how it should be. There is every chance that the Red Rose raiders will be met by go-slow bagpipers, the infernal pillar in the middle of the away dressing-room and severe over-crowding on their half of the field during the warm-ups. That is all part of the fixture’s rich tapestry.

The animosity is not imagined; it is as real as ever. It’s even enshrined in the home anthem. Flower of Scotland is all about sending the English – in the form of ‘proud Edward’s army’ back home ‘to think again’. It is always belted out with extra passion before Calcutta Cup matches, for obvious reasons. It is an expression of national pride and defiance, rooted in events way back in the 14th century. Try un-doing such age-old sentiment in this time of political correctness. No chance.

England cannot match that. It’s just not possible. The rivalry is a much bigger deal on one side than the other. Conflict with Scotland is simply not seared into the national psyche in the same way as it is in reverse, as was epitomised by the famous slow walk led by David Sole in 1990, which was as much an anti-Thatcher statement as a means of creating the febrile mood for an upset.

There is a palpable animosity on the Scottish side that England just can't match when the two teams clash

There is a palpable animosity on the Scottish side that England just can’t match when the two teams clash

While the rivalry is fiercely observed it is clearly larger on the side of Gregor Townsend's men

While the rivalry is fiercely observed it is clearly larger on the side of Gregor Townsend’s men

In the past, it always used to be; beat this (posh) lot and the season will be fine, whatever else happens. While there are raised Scottish ambitions now, there is still an element of that outlook and it has partly fuelled recent Scottish dominance in the fixture, along with the assembly of a fine and well-coached team. This is the scalp they really want.

It is the same with the Welsh, just as Dan Biggar made clear in his conversation with Jonny Wilkinson for Mail Sport. Wales have won titles and Slams in the pro era, but as a country they put an extra special emphasis on lowering the English colours.

As with the Scots, historical animosity drives one side of that rivalry. Before Wales v England in 1977 in Cardiff, home captain Phil Bennett delivered a famous, fiery team talk, saying: ‘Look what these bastards have done to Wales. They’ve taken our coal, our water, our steel. They buy our homes and live in them for a fortnight every year. We’ve been exploited, raped, controlled and punished by the English — and that’s who you are playing this afternoon.’

It is doubtful that an England skipper could muster such depths of ill-feeling towards the opposition. There is an unavoidably different historical dimension. England fans are not so singularly driven by a fervent desire to beat the Celts. The rivalry is imbalanced, although years of Welsh dominance in the fixture created a generation of English players and supporters hell-bent on vengeance.

If demand for tickets were the determining factor, England's biggest rivals would be New Zealand

If demand for tickets were the determining factor, England’s biggest rivals would be New Zealand

Winning just one of their last six Tests against Scotland should give them plenty to work with at Murrayfield this Saturday

Winning just one of their last six Tests against Scotland should give them plenty to work with at Murrayfield this Saturday

It is slightly different with Ireland, for whom England have always been the primary target for players and public alike, but in recent times the emphasis has changed. France are the other standard-bearers in Europe, so those countries have vied for northern supremacy, while England languished. Further afield, a rivalry has developed with New Zealand, after modern-day Irish successes against them. Given what happened in Paris late last year, that fire will burn on in Irish hearts.

But what rivalry matters most to England and the English? That is somewhat harder to judge. In Sir Clive Woodward’s triumphant era, he spoke openly about a perennial Anglo-French duopoly, which made the Gallic rivals the ones he and his team had their sights on close to home.

The fixture which brings most ticket requests – which is not actually the worst way to gauge interest levels – is New Zealand. The aura around the All Blacks creates a wider audience engagement. That is often the stop-what-you’re-doing-and-pay-attention game; and beating them (rarely) is seen as an ultimate one-off feat above and beyond anything else.

Elsewhere; Australia would designate New Zealand as their primary rivals but Kiwis would probably say South Africa, as the Springboks and All Blacks have been the leading forces in the sport. Argentina are too isolated to have a familiar, go-to rivalry, but it’s a fair bet that their fans would want the English scalp most too. Again, that is for reasons which go way beyond mere rugby or sport.

England will have to cope with 'magician' Finn Russell next week who can use his brilliance to torment Steve Borthwick's side

England will have to cope with ‘magician’ Finn Russell next week who can use his brilliance to torment Steve Borthwick’s side

Having won only one of their last six Tests against Scotland should give England something to work with at Murrayfield

Having won only one of their last six Tests against Scotland should give England something to work with at Murrayfield

But England will be without scrum-half Alex Mitchell for the clash, after he suffered a knee injury

But England will be without scrum-half Alex Mitchell for the clash, after he suffered a knee injury

England cannot harness history in the same way as many opponents. They have to find other forms of motivation.

Winning just one of their last six Tests against Scotland should give them plenty to work with at Murrayfield, but the hosts will come armed with raging injustice from their defeat against France, as well as familiar loathing for the ‘auld enemy’. It is a potent mix. Stand by for the usual mayhem.

Portugal are a force to be reckoned with

Portugal have done a good, timely job of showcasing their rugby brilliance, to help shift a load more tickets before they face England ‘A’ at Welford Road in Leicester on Sunday. 

The team who took the World Cup by storm were back in razzle-dazzle mode in their Rugby Europe Championship victory over Romania in Bucharest. 

While Os Lobos (‘The Wolves’) were stunned by Belgium in round one of the second-tier championship, that shock clearly jolted them to reach new creative heights. If you haven’t already, find the footage of Lucas Martins finishing a stunning team try which featured an audacious break from deep, rapid off-loading, then a delicious cross-kick by young scrum-half Hugo Camacho. 

Portugal have made great strides in recent years and deserve an opportunity to play with the big boys of international rugby

Portugal have made great strides in recent years and deserve an opportunity to play with the big boys of international rugby

The Portuguese also provide glorious entertainment with Lucas Martins (right) also producing a sensational, long-range solo try

The Portuguese also provide glorious entertainment with Lucas Martins (right) also producing a sensational, long-range solo try

Martins also produced a sensational, long-range solo try. The Portuguese provide glorious entertainment, which should attract a healthy crowd to the Tigers’ lair next weekend. 

Their win over Romania came days after the country’s Under 18 team were added – along with Georgia – to a new, expanded ‘Six Nations’ event at that age-group this year. It is a small, positive step in the right direction. Now, it just needs the powers-that-be to realise that opening the doors at senior level would make sense too, to drag rugby away from its traditional confines.

Mercer emphatically responds to snub

What a response by Zach Mercer. First, he was left out of England’s Six Nations squad, then he didn’t make the cut for the England ‘A’ squad either – apparently because he’s not part of the Red Rose ‘pathway’. 

So, of course, he delivered a master-class performance against Exeter at Kingsholm on Saturday, to immediately and emphatically remind everyone of his exceptional talent.

The highlight was a storming break out of his 22 and a clever kick ahead to set up a try for Josh Hathaway. 

Zach Mercer refused to allow an England snub to stop him performing at his devastating best

Zach Mercer refused to allow an England snub to stop him performing at his devastating best

He delivered a master-class performance against Exeter at Kingsholm on Saturday, to immediately and emphatically remind everyone of his exceptional talent

He delivered a master-class performance against Exeter at Kingsholm on Saturday, to immediately and emphatically remind everyone of his exceptional talent

‘He has it all’ said Alastair Eykyn on commentary, which was a fair comment about his playing repertoire, but not about his career outlook. 

He doesn’t have what he came home for; Test caps or the prospect of any. Mercer’s face doesn’t fit or more to the point, his physical profile isn’t right for the England mould. What a shame. Nobody should blame him for high-tailing it back to France – where he was feted and respected – at the first opportunity.

Documentary offers behind the scenes look at Australia’s car-crash World Cup campaign

The documentary about Australia’s car-crash World Cup campaign is being released on Stan Sports this week and – if viewers in this part of the world are able to see it – it promises to be explosive and enthralling. 

Eddie Jones may not have done a good job of igniting his country’s quest for unlikely global glory, but, from the promotional footage, he did plenty to create a hard-hitting, warts-and-all sports drama series. In its own way that is good for the game too.   

An Australian documentary covering Eddie Jones' disastrous World Cup campaign is compelling viewing

An Australian documentary covering Eddie Jones’ disastrous World Cup campaign is compelling viewing

The trailers have shown plenty of unvarnished footage of injury ordeals, selection upheaval, brutal meetings, savage post-match verdicts, Jones wielding a cattle prod and being quizzed about an approach from Japan. It looks set to be raw, unpolished and fascinating.

England need to be more accessible

England had 10,000 people in attendance to watch them training at Twickenham last Friday, with tickets distributed for free. The exercise is being repeated at the LNER Community Stadium in York at the end of the next Six Nations ‘down’ week and that is an especially positive venture by the RFU and national team. 

Since Jamie George took over as captain, there has been a focus on re-connecting with the public and this is a useful way to do it. England should be far more accessible, so they appeal to those who aren’t connected enough, rich enough and live close enough to watch the big matches. 

England’s Open Day training sessions are a step in the right direction for growing the sport

Steve Borthwick's side had 10,000 people in attendance to watch them train at Twickenham last Friday, with tickets distributed for free

Steve Borthwick’s side had 10,000 people in attendance to watch them train at Twickenham last Friday, with tickets distributed for free

The north-south split is crucial. The team belongs to the whole country, not just the home counties and London. So well done and more of this, please. Ideally, at least one marquee Test per year would be played away from Twickenham, but the drive for maximum profits and the debenture system means this is a pipe-dream. 

For too long, England have trained in Surrey and played all their matches 20 miles away, in the south west of the capital. 

But the sport has a much wider catchment area – which is certainly reflected in the varied geographical backgrounds of the players, and should also be reflected in the public appearances of the squad and team.



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