By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – By the time England kick off the last game of the Six Nations against Scotland at Twickenham next Saturday they will know whether they are playing for the title or just the pleasure of another win in the oldest fixture in international rugby.
If it is just the latter, coach Eddie Jones sounds as if he will be quite happy.
Wales host Ireland at 1445 GMT and a home victory will complete a Grand Slam.
Should Ireland, who still have to play France this Sunday, pull off a win then, barring a pair of freakishly high-scoring, bonus-point wins for Joe Schmidt’s team, victory for England in their 1700 kick-off would see the Six Nations trophy being handed to Owen Farrell at Twickenham.
However, if Farrell is merely parading the Calcutta Cup, Jones will enjoy the moment as he is clearly still stinging from last year’s 25-13 defeat at Murrayfield.
“We saw how (Scotland) carried on last year after they beat us and we may have short memories sometimes but sometimes you have longer memories and I remember everything that was said,” he told reporters straight after Saturday’s 57-14 thrashing of a poor Italy side.
“This is their game. This is the one game they get themselves up for. They pulled our pants down badly last year so we have work to do to make sure we finish the game with our pants up.”
Last year some players were involved in a shoving match in the tunnel as they returned to the changing rooms before the match, while Jones was jostled and abused on the train by Scottish football fans as he travelled back from Edinburgh.
Attention has turned to next week’s match so quickly partly because there was little to learn from Saturday’s game as England brushed aside an Italian side that missed 23 tackles and looked off the pace throughout.
The experiment of pairing Manu Tuilagi and Ben Te’o in a beefed-up midfield went smoothly enough, with Tuilagi scoring two of England’s eight tries in a lively performance, while big winger Joe Cokanasiga had the crowd on their feet with his one-handed ball carrying and one audacious round-the-back pass two minutes into the game.
Jones said he was delighted with the way England regrouped from their Wales defeat and was particularly pleased with how they kept their focus in the second half, having already secured the bonus point with four tries in the first 32 minutes.
Jamie George, now seemingly established as first-choice hooker even if and when Dylan Hartley regains fitness, agreed, saying that there was a “night and day” difference to the squad a year on from the Murrayfield defeat.
“A lot of it is to do with the atmosphere in the team,” he said. “We lost against Wales but how quickly we bounced back is incredible really. The lesson we’ve learned is to try to get better each day rather than let the negativity get on top of us.
“We’re in a much better place now. When you’re losing the pressure comes on. When you lose a few games on the bounce it’s difficult to enjoy yourself on the training pitch because of the pressure and in turn you struggle to express yourself in the game; you start to look at yourselves a bit more.”
If that is the case then the Scots, who lost their third game on the trot 18-11 to Wales at Murrayfield on Saturday and who have not won at Twickenham since 1983, will be spending a long time in front of the mirror this week.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Clare Fallon)