LAST weekend against Ireland was encouraging, but Scotland still returned home from Dublin with only a losing bonus-point to show for their efforts at the Aviva Stadium, which was a fact captain Stuart Hogg was keen to acknowledge yesterday at his eve-of-match press conference ahead of today’s Calcutta Cup appointment against England at Murrayfield.

Complacency is the enemy of progress, and while it was satisfying for the Scotland team to generate some positive energy – and headlines – after a torrid few months since their disastrous World Cup campaign, there is still much more to achieve if they are to start really hitting the heights they expect of themselves.

“Last week we were bitterly disappointed with the final outcome,” insisted Hogg, when he was asked to assess the team’s current state of mind. “There were some really good aspects to our game – we really took it to Ireland in attack and fronted up in defence, which is something that has let us down the last couple of years – but we’re gutted with the fact that we could have potentially won that game last week and didn’t quite do enough.


“There was a couple of bits and pieces that we needed to tidy up this week if we want to go one better. We’ve had a very good preperation week and can’t wait to get going tomorrow.

“We’ve got the game-plan and the players in this squad to be winning Test matches such as this,” he continued. “The tag that we’ve been given [as gallant losers] really hurts the players but we need to be in a position to win Test matches before that goes.

“So, we’ve got another opportunity tomorrow to make sure that description doesn’t apply to us. There’s a Calcutta Cup to play for and that’s all we’re concentrating on. It’s a huge occasion, with some boys playing in this game for the first time, but we’ve shown over the past couple of years that we’re more than capable of winning. We’re ready.”

It is amazing how quickly expectations can change. Even the most optimistic of Scotland supporters would have been anticipating watching this one through the cracks in their fingers just a few weeks ago, but a couple injuries to big ball carriers in the English side (Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilangi), plus some questionable team selections (George Furbank at full-back and Willi Heinz at scrum-half) and a ropey opening-weekend performance against France last Sunday, has levelled the playing field considerably. England remain 11/4 favourites to win the contest, but you won’t find many discerning punters willing to go big on that bet.


With Storm Ciara closing in – and likely to be a huge leveller in this match – it could come down to who starts best and holds their nerve longest.

“We’ve got enough experience to know we have to concentrate on our jobs,” said Hogg. “We have attack structures to nail down, defensively we have to be rock solid, and we just have to concentrate on doing that for 80 minutes.

“It’s the simple things that we can execute time and time again which will make the difference. We have to be on the money to shut down England. We are desperate to win. England are desperate to win. It’s going to take a complete 80-minute performance from us to get that win.”

While Hogg’s determination to atone for recent setbacks was clear, his language throughout the press conference was very deliberately respectful towards the opposition, in contrast to some of the soundbites which have been coming out of both camps – and particularly from England head coach Eddie Jones – this week.

“My job is to make sure I’m concentrating on getting my performance spot on but also making sure the team is switched on and we’re here for the right reasons, not listening to what others have got to say,” he reasoned.

“We’re concentrating on what happens within the four walls of our changing room and making sure we are focused and ready.


“I think I’ve made it pretty clear I’ve got a lot of respect for England. I’ve been fortunate enough to play with a few of their boys on Lions tours and they’re world class. We want an opportunity to turn them over but that doesn’t mean we don’t respect them.

“I’m also fortunate to play for an excellent team in Exeter Chiefs, and they’ve got some of the best internationals involved in the England team, like

Jack Nowell, Henry Slade,

Luke Cowen-Dickie, Alex Hepburn and Ollie Devoto, who are all world-class players. And while there has been some banter about this game, I know they do respect us, 100 per cent, because they’re aware of the challenges we pose for them as a team.

“I fully believe in our team and we’ll do everything in our power to get a result. But they’re a world-class team with world-class individuals we’re going to have to shut down.”

Not much fighting talk there, then. But Hogg was rushing away after the press conference to spend some time with Josh Taylor, Scotland’s light-welterweight world champion boxer, who is a guest of the squad this weekend – which might change his approach slightly.

“He has excelled in his sport and I loved hearing from him this morning,” said Hogg. “He has already touched on the fact that nobody believed in his ability to become world champion and he made people change their thought process on him. So, I’m excited to learn from him – and no doubt he will get us riled up for tomorrow.”