Sat, Feb 25, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Resurgent Scots look for Calcutta Cup upset

AFP , EDINBURGH, DUBLIN AND PARIS

Scotland coach Frank Hadden looks down during a training session at Murrayfield on Monday. Scotland play England today in the Six Nations Championship.

PHOTO: REUTERS

The Calcutta Cup may be rugby's union's oldest international match but it has also been one of the most predictable in recent seasons.

But all that could yet change when Scotland take on England at Murrayfield today.

World champions England have won 15 of their last 16 meetings against their oldest rivals, averaging a crushing 40 points per match in a fixture that dates back to 1871.

However, Scotland have been rejuvenated under coach Frank Hadden and demonstrated their new-found self-belief with a breathtaking 20-16 win over pre-tournament favorites France at Murrayfield earlier this month.

And even though they lost to Wales, the Scots could derive heart from a display where, playing most of the match with 14 men, they were only beaten 28-18.

England coach Andy Robinson said signs of a Scotland recovery were already evident during last season's Calcutta Cup match, where England won 43-22. "We saw it a little bit at Twickenham last year when they scored three tries.

"They were offloading in the tackle and they've taken it on a bit. They are playing with real enthusiasm and freedom."

And Robinson, a former England flanker, paid tribute to the Scotland back-row of skipper Jason White, Allister Hogg and Simon Taylor comparing them to their Scottish predecessors of a generation ago.

"They have a got back-row that is similar and probably more effective than the old back-row of John Jeffrey, Finlay Calder and Derek White which was pretty experienced. They were all destroyers.

"These guys are not only destroyers but they have also got good footballing ability as well.

"This is a Scotland side that has to be respected."

Ireland vs Wales

Anyone looking for proof of the enduring unpredictability of the Six Nations need look no further than tomorrow's match between Ireland and Wales here at Lansdowne Road.

When the teams last met in Cardiff 10 months ago, Wales completed an historic Grand Slam. But what was once a well-oiled machine is rapidly disintegrating.

Wales coach Mike Ruddock has resigned amidst accusations he was forced out by player power, captain Gareth Thomas is out for the rest of the season with a neck injury and wing Shane Williams has joined an already-lengthy injury list.

Gifted center Gavin Henson is back on the bench after serving a suspension but he is hardly the most popular man amongst his peers after criticizing several players in his book My Grand Slam Year.

Add in the fact that they are playing a season-defining match at a ground where they have lost on their last three visits and it is easy to see why many Welsh fans are fearing the worst.

No 8 Michael Owen, who stood in as captain when Thomas was injured last season, will lead the side once again with Lee Byrne in at full-back and Dafydd James taking Williams's place on the wing.

Wales, in Ruddock's last match in charge, beat 14-man Scotland 28-18 in Cardiff and for all their off-field problems will still fancy their chances of winning against an inconsistent Ireland side.

Both teams have won one and lost one of their two Six Nations matches this season with Ireland, after a lackluster victory against Italy going down 43-31 to France in Paris in a mistake-ridden display where they nevertheless rallied spectacularly from 43-3 down heading into the final quarter.

Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan has made three changes for what he has labelled a "pivotal" fixture after berating his team's "schoolboy errors" in Paris where they gifted Les Bleus several tries.

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