IN the five years since he became England coach, Eddie Jones has never sounded particularly friendly towards Scotland.
That is no surprise, of course, given the opposing teams and their supporters have a rivalry which, though usually healthy, occasionally tips over into something more rancorous. What did come as a surprise at last week’s Six Nations Championship launch, however, was the Australian’s revelation that as a young hooker his idols were Scottish players.
Jones, who celebrated his 61st birthday yesterday, was born in Tasmania but moved to Sydney while still at school. He went on to turn out for local club Randwick and for New South Wales, but rather than having role models in the older players around him, his heroes were on the other side of the world.
“During the period I was growing up, Scotland had a really good side,” he recalled. “They had a fantastic hooker, Colin Deans, who I always wanted to be – fast, aggressive. And I actually met him recently up at Northampton, he lives up there.
“And they had an outstanding back row – John Jeffrey, [Finlay] Calder – really tough. And they played that fast rucking game as opposed to England, who played historically more of a stand-up game. So you had this fast, aggressive team against a more stand-up team. It was a good contrast in the styles of rugby.”
It was a contrast which stood Scotland in good stead on some occasions during that period, notably in 1983 when they claimed their last victory at Twickenham, and in 1984 and 1990 when they won Grand Slams. But these days England are far more dynamic, and, since Jones took over, far more professional too in their meticulous attention to detail when preparing for games.
It was in fact against Scotland at Murrayfield that he made his debut as head coach, and although it was widely thought that England were there for the taking, they did enough to win 15-9, a result that is a fond memory for Jones, even if he and his players did not get the friendliest of welcomes.
“I can remember arriving at the ground, and the abuse we received set a great scene for the game,” he said. “The team and I didn’t know each other that well, I think we had 10 days together and we had to find a way to win that game.
“It’s a great game, England-Scotland, because it means so much to everyone. I remember a couple of years ago, coming back from a Scotland game and getting accosted by a few Scottish supporters, which was a bit of fun. Yeah, it’s a great game.”
The incident in question, in Manchester the day after Scotland’s 2018 win at Murrayfield, was not really “a bit of fun”. Three men from Edinburgh were later fined for verbally abusing the coach.
Of course, on Saturday at Twickenham the Calcutta Cup clash will be held behind closed doors due to the pandemic. But will the lack of a crowd make the occasion any less tribal and passionate?
“The answer is I don’t know,” Jones said. “What I do know is that the players will be 100 per cent committed, and it will mean as much for the English players as it will for the Scottish players whether there’s 80,000 people there or not.
“It’s an important game. They see it as an important game, we see it as an important game, and it will be intense and it will be a tough game.”