Gregor Townsend says Calcutta Cup success is Scotland’s sole focus

By Sports Desk February 22, 2024

Gregor Townsend says Scotland’s sole focus is on winning their “biggest game of the season” against England this weekend and maintaining their recent dominance of the Calcutta Cup.

The Scots go into Saturday’s showdown with their bitter rivals knowing they will almost certainly require a victory to stay in contention for the Guinness Six Nations title after their controversial defeat by France last time out.

Townsend is adamant that any lingering injustice from ‘trygate’ a fortnight ago has been parked and that any talk of contending for the title can remain firmly on the backburner until after their high-stakes encounter with Steve Borthwick’s side.

“When you’re coming in off the back of a defeat, you have to bounce back with a victory,” said Townsend, when asked on Thursday how the France defeat has left his side’s title prospects.

“You’re not really thinking about the championship. We’ll see where we are on Saturday.

“The full focus is on this game because it’s our most important game of the season.

“It’s the most important game for our supporters and we also play for a trophy, in amongst the Triple Crown and other trophies.

“But this is one that we’re focused on more than the others. That probably shouldn’t be the case, but it is.

“It’s history. It’s emotion. We’ve seen the impact this game has on Scottish supporters when we do manage to get a victory in this fixture. That’ll drive us on Saturday.”

Having beaten England only three times in 27 attempts between 1990 and 2018, the Scots now find themselves going into this weekend’s fixture on the back of a three-game winning run and having lost only one of their last six meetings with their old foes.

Townsend, who was accustomed to regular defeats against England in his time as a player, admits his team’s recent burst of Calcutta Cup success has given them increased belief going into Saturday’s match.

“Yes, for sure,” he said. “The game in 2018 (Scotland’s first win over England in a decade) has certainly given the players confidence when they’ve taken on England in the last few games.

“But what’s most relevant is the game you’ve just played, the things you have to work on to be a better team, and the threats that England bring.

“This England team is different to the one we faced 12 months ago but ultimately it’s just about delivering in the 80 minutes on the day.”

Townsend has made three changes to the side that started the 20-16 defeat by France, with Glasgow wing Kyle Steyn returning after missing Les Bleus game when his wife went into labour and Toulouse full-back Blair Kinghorn back after sitting out the first two matches with a knee injury.

Kyle Rowe and Harry Paterson, who deputised in the absence of the two experienced backs, drop out of the squad altogether.

The most notable change is in the back row where Edinburgh flanker Jamie Ritchie, who recently lost the captaincy and then was then left out of the 23 for the France game, returns to the number six jersey in place of Matt Fagerson, who is dropped from the squad.

“Jamie has really accepted the challenge that was there about a month ago that there’s increased competition in the back-row and for that reason he was no longer going to be captain,” explained Townsend.

“But since that conversation he’s played two games for Edinburgh and one for Scotland in Cardiff and he’s played well.

“We believe this game will suit his strengths and his experience he can bring to the team as well will be a boost.”

Related items

  • John Mitchell: England motivated to fill Twickenham with captivating displays John Mitchell: England motivated to fill Twickenham with captivating displays

    England ran riot against Ireland with head coach John Mitchell revealing their pivot to an all-action attack is designed to fill Twickenham.

    A crowd of 48,778 watched the Red Roses plunder 14 tries in an 88-10 victory that keeps them on course to win a sixth successive Guinness Women’s Six Nations title when they face France in a likely Grand Slam decider next weekend.

    Unstoppable wing Abby Dow and player of the match Ellie Kildunne completed hat-tricks, but there were fireworks across the field as England delivered on their promise to put on a show.

    Their ultimate aim is to run out at next year’s home World Cup in front of a sold-out Twickenham and Mitchell insisted that can only be achieved by captivating audiences with a style of play no longer based on forward dominance.

    “The girls presented a performance that went up a gear. We asked that of them during the week and they certainly delivered it,” the Kiwi said.

    “We’ve got a drive to fill the stadium on a consistent basis because we want to play here consistently.

    “If we can continue to produce performances like that it won’t be too long before we do fill all the seats. From that point of view, it’s only that style of rugby that will bring people to watch us.

    “We know we have other strengths as well, but this is a good sign and we’re only in the infancy of it.

    “It’s a testament to the girls because they go out and own it and see the rewards from it.”

    England have amassed 228 points after four rounds of the Six Nations, conceding only 20, and the lopsided scoreline at Twickenham is an ugly look for the competition.

    “I’m sure some people will chat about the competitiveness, but at the end of the day we drive ourselves in the way we prepare and that’s all we can focus on,” Mitchell said.

    “We’re not really in a position to judge the competition or its competitiveness. Our standards in the way we prepare have gone up a little bit in terms of level.”

    Ireland head coach Scott Bemand admitted his side were left “shell-shocked” by the game’s dominant force.

    “Tough day at the office. We came up against the market leaders but we’ll dust ourselves down and come back next week,” he said.

    “This was a big game for a youthful group. Could we have predicted a margin like that? Probably not.”

  • England overwhelm Ireland to keep Six Nations title hopes firmly on track England overwhelm Ireland to keep Six Nations title hopes firmly on track

    England thrilled a bumper crowd at Twickenham by overwhelming Ireland 88-10 to set up a likely Grand Slam decider against France next weekend.

    The Red Roses amassed 14 tries in front of 48,778 fans with the unstoppable Abby Dow and Ellie Kildunne completing hat-tricks, while Megan Jones and Jess Breach each crossed twice.

    For all Dow’s finishing instincts, it was full-back Kildunne who shone brightest through a captivating display in attack, and her athleticism was a constant threat to Ireland.

    It was an ugly final scoreline for the tournament but Ireland at least managed to touch down by forcing a penalty try.

    Scrum-half Natasha Hunt promised England would “put on a show” and by securing the try-scoring bonus point inside the opening quarter, they duly delivered despite losing lock Rosie Galligan to a thumb injury during the warm-up.

    Dow left a trail of green shirts on the ground to begin the onslaught and Hunt was the next to score after making a dynamic solo break.

    The tone had been set and what followed was a procession with Kildunne at the vanguard, the Harlequin’s electric running sweeping her into open space time and again.

    A cheeky dummy kick launched one gliding charge out of defence and Ireland were having to scramble furiously to contain a player who has the ambition of becoming the best in the world.

    When she crossed on the half-hour mark it was a simple finish to a move started by England’s line-out maul as the home pack asserted itself up front.

    Hooker Lark Atkin-Davies was helped off with an injury but the rout continued when sharp handling and a vast gap in the Ireland midfield invited Dow over for her second.

    The Irish ran out of defenders as Breach switched on the afterburners to race over, and just eight minutes into the second half England surpassed 50 points for the first time in this Six Nations when Sadia Kabeya powered over.

    Ireland were outclassed but showed plenty of fight against the game’s dominant force and their determination paid off when they were awarded a penalty try for seeing a driving maul thwarted illegally.

    Lucy Packer was sent to the sin-bin as a result, but England still scored next when Jones weaved a path through the opposition midfield.

    Emily Scarratt received a loud cheer when she replaced Tatyana Heard and Dow ran in her third, ushering in a traumatic final quarter for Ireland who were swamped by better conditioned opponents.

  • Cole Palmer has nothing to prove to City, says Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino Cole Palmer has nothing to prove to City, says Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino

    Mauricio Pochettino believes Cole Palmer will go into Chelsea’s FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City on Saturday with nothing to prove to his former employers, insisting he is the right manager to help the 21-year-old continue his stunning ascendancy.

    Palmer, who left Chelsea’s Wembley opponents in a £42.5million deal in the summer, is joint top scorer in the Premier League after his four goals in Monday’s 6-0 demolition of Everton moved him level with City’s Erling Haaland on 20 for the season.

    He has netted an incredible seven times in the team’s last two home games, including a hat-trick in the breathless 4-3 win over Manchester United when two of his goals came in the 10th and 11th minutes of stoppage time.

    He previously scored from the penalty spot in the fifth minute of added time to snatch a point in a 4-4 draw when City visited west London in November.

    Palmer has previously stated his decision to leave the champions – for whom he scored twice in August in the Community Shield and UEFA Super Cup – was based on the belief he would get more first-team game time at Chelsea.

    That decision has been thoroughly vindicated, with his performances for Mauricio Pochettino’s frustratingly inconsistent side placing him in the reckoning for the PFA Player of the Year award.

    His odds on winning the award have been slashed by as much as half with some bookmakers since his Everton haul.

    But his manager said there was no possibility the England international would face City with an axe to grind.

    “It’s his first consistent season playing, we need to be careful because he’s still young, he’s growing,” said Pochettino.

    “He’s already played twice (against City) in the Premier League. He’s very grateful for Manchester City, with Pep Guardiola. He always talks very highly of them.

    “He’s not the type of player that has something inside (to prove). He understood perfectly that for different reasons he wanted to prove himself in another club.

    “He’s not the type of person to wants to prove something against his former club.”

    Prior to joining Chelsea, Palmer had played only 19 senior league games spread over three seasons, and had not scored in the Premier League.

    Yet he is now a genuine contender to deprive his former team-mate Haaland of the Golden Boot won by the Norwegian last season.

    There is also the growing prospect of his being selected in Gareth Southgate’s squad for Euro 2024 in Germany this summer.

    “He has to absorb the pressure to play in the Premier League consistently,” said Pochettino, who previously enjoyed success at Tottenham stewarding young talents though their early years, including England captain Harry Kane.

    “It’s about the demands in his private life. He is top scorer. He maybe needs to pay attention to different things than before. That’s going to have an influence on how he is going to prepare himself, how he’s going to rest and going to sleep, how he spends his energy.

    “We need to be careful. We have the experience to manage this type of thing, when a young kid becomes a big star. Why is he not performing in a few months? Because his life has changed. He needs to learn from this experience that is completely different to the past.”

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.