EDDIE Jones says he will send his England team out to “go after” Scotland at BT Murrayfield on Saturday, but has played down a suggestion from Stuart Hogg that both teams will be committed to open, attacking rugby in the Calcutta Cup clash.
Scotland have won two and drawn one of the last four meetings in the series, and although England actually won on their last visit to Edinburgh, Jones appears to believe that overall in recent years his team have not been assertive enough. If the visitors’ head coach is true to his word and aggressive rugby does not mean expansive rugby, we could see a return to an old-style match between the two countries in which England try to control the game physically and stifle the life out of Scottish attempts to entertain.
“Everyone knows the history between the two countries, and we know that every time Scotland plays against England it’s their biggest game of the tournament,” Jones said at last week’s Six Nations launch. “But the big difference this year is that we’re going up there to get them.
“We’re going after them, so they’re going to have to be pretty good. And they are good, so it’s a sizeable challenge, and you put on that the extraordinary weather conditions you can have up there – it can be wet and cold and miserable and the field can be slippery and slidy.
“We played that  game in hurricane-type conditions, and we had to battle hard coming off a poor first game which meant we had a bit of pressure on us, and we responded nicely with a good win. So we know what it takes.
“A lot of it is about mindset – you’ve got to start the game well, get into the game, and go after them. And we’re looking forward to starting to prepare for that.”
Asked whether “going after them” meant playing Scotland at their own game, Jones was adamant that it did not. “I’m not saying we’re doing that. My interpretation is to go after them. So if you’re riding on a bike down the street, I’m going to come after you.
“There’s nothing about loose and free. If you want to think of that being loose and free then that’s OK, but that’s not the way we’re thinking.”
Of course, Jones is one of the wiliest practitioners of gamesmanship in the sport, and his public statements are at times designed to sow confusion rather than reveal his true intentions. Certainly, Scotland captain Hogg, while well aware of the physical battle that awaits, expects England to play in enterprising fashion.
“We know it’s going to be a hugely physical challenge and they’re going to want to throw the ball around as well,” the full-back said. “It’s a perfect opportunity for us to show what we’re capable of with the ball and also without the ball.
“We feel we’re making good strides forward with where we want to be and we’ll continue to work hard and learn and improve along the way. But we want to kick-start our campaign with a good win.”
Scotland certainly got a good win against England in 2018, winning 25-13 at home. Jones complained afterwards about the hostile reception his team received on arrival at the ground, but this time round expects himself, not his players, to be the focus of any antagonism. “It is going to be hostile, but the good thing is that they’ve got me there, and I’m not very popular, so I’m sure I’m going to get plenty of the abuse and I’m happy to take that.”
England will be without some of their most experienced backs on Saturday, with Owen Farrell, Jonny May, Manu Tuilagi and Anthony Watson all set to miss out through injury. Their replacements may not have encountered anything like the red-hot atmosphere of a Calcutta Cup match before, but Jones has no doubt that, buoyed by the support of their more seasoned team-mates, they will enjoy the afternoon.
“They’ll love it,” he insisted. “Why wouldn’t they? They get to play in the first game of the greatest championship; it’s the Calcutta Cup, so it means a lot. It’s important to understand what it will be like, so our more experienced players will share that experience with the younger guys, then we’ll make sure we prepare for the game.
“We know the first 20 minutes, particularly, is going to be fast, because Scotland like to play fast. And sometimes they like to do that pace in the first 20 to throw you off rhythm.
“We’ve got a set mindset of how we want to play. We want to be aggressive when we’ve got the ball and we want to be aggressive when we haven’t got the ball. And we want to take the rhythm and tempo out of their game, and put rhythm and tempo into our game.”