In Focus: How Scotland have turned the tables on England

There is a whole generation of Scotland fans whose only experience of Calcutta Cup matches centred around dread, defeat and demoralising journeys to Twickenham.

There is a whole generation of Scotland fans whose only experience of Calcutta Cup matches centred around dread, defeat and demoralising journeys to Twickenham.

Between Tony Stanger’s famous try in the Grand Slam decider in 1990 and their magical victory at BT Murrayfield in 2018, Scotland won just three of 29 matches against the Auld Enemy.

Much was made of finally ending the 38-year hoodoo at Twickenham, but their Calcutta Cup pain was not just restricted to south-west London.

They managed a 14-year run without a try at home against the English, and coach Gregor Townsend won just one of his 10 appearances in the fixture.

Considering that context, these are truly special times for Scotland supporters. Saturday’s win at Twickenham was their second in a row in the stadium – the first time they have ever achieved that. Three wins in a row against England had not happened since the 1970s, while this is now three wins and a draw in the last five meetings.

What is clear is that the fear factor has well and truly evaporated. Scotland teams of yesteryear might well have crumbled when Ellis Genge barged over to make it 20-12 shortly after half-time.

Scotland had been clinical, but had struggled to get their hands on the ball. But rather than wilt, they responded as Ben White grabbed his second try in as many Calcutta Cup fixtures and instead it was the visitors who finished the stronger.

When asked to explain how his team have reversed their fortunes in this fixture, Townsend was quick to heap all his praise on the players.

He explained: “It’s down to the players. We have a great group of players, we changed the team up from what it was like in November and the players went out there and played outstanding rugby. Ben White, in his first start in the Six Nations, Luke Crosbie, in his first start in the Six Nations, Huw (Jones) back in the team, these are players who did very well for us and helped us win.”


More importantly though, Scotland now not only believe they can beat England, they almost expect it.

Much of it goes back to two fixtures. In 2018, Scotland dominated England at the breakdown and made the most of Finn Russell’s stunning range of passing to clinch a 25-13 win and end a decade of English dominance.

A year later, in one of the most famous meetings of all in this fixture, Scotland came from 31-0 down to lead, eventually settling for a 38-38 draw – the first time they had avoided defeat at Twickenham in more than three decades.

Those games left their mark.

“The players need belief and they have got that since 2018,” added Townsend. “That fixture was a turning point in how we view this fixture. Then there’s the comeback in 2019, the second half, being down here and going ‘we can come away with something’.

“I don’t think the players will come to this fixture, certainly in the short-term, thinking it’s going to end up in a defeat. We’ve got what it takes to win and you just have to deliver that when you get out on the field.”


Looking at the players, what was most striking was the reaction to victory after the game. Jamie Ritchie and his troops were happy but not euphoric. Even in front of a packed Twickenham – which was not the case two years ago when they finally got that monkey off their backs – the Scots were already turning their attention to Wales next week.

White, who plies his trade just down the road at London Irish and has spent all season driving past Twickenham with the hope of playing in this fixture, summed up the feeling within the Scotland squad.

There is a self-assurance around Scotland when it comes to these games and a belief that courses through the squad.

White said: “We’re a good team, we’ve got very good players, some of the best players in the world are on this team, we back ourselves and I think that shows as a group. There’s a lot of very good leaders in the team and a lot of very skilful players.

“It’s a brilliant team to be part of and I love playing in it. I absolutely love pulling the jersey on and playing for Scotland. When you heard the national anthem, you heard the fans in the stadium singing and they were behind us. A lot travelled here and we’re hugely grateful for that support.

“The expectation on us is to deliver every week, no matter who we are playing. There is an expectation to win, I think it showed in the autumn when we were playing against New Zealand, you see the fans back us to win and we believe we can win. Week-to-week, we believe that if we put the prep in and put the work in, then we’ll reap the rewards.”


There is no question that when it comes to England, the mental blocks have been lifted, if not reversed.

Wales, on the other hand, is a problem that Scotland have not yet solved. In both 2020 and 2021, the Scots opened their campaign by beating England, only to fall back down to earth a week later.

It has not quite reached the levels of England in the 1990s and 2000s, but Scotland have beaten Wales just twice in 15 years, and they never got the better of Warren Gatland in his first spell (their 2017 victory came while he was on a Lions sabbatical).

White and his teammates are only too aware of that recent history and it is part of why they were able to turn their focus while the fans were still celebrating a glorious day out at Twickenham.

He added: “The second the whistle blew, the first thing we said in the huddle is that we’re sick of having that same thing be written: beat England and lose to Wales.

“We’re at home this time and we want to put in the performance that the nation can be proud of and go 2-0. We’re very clear in what we want to do and where we want to go. This week was a big focus and we had to win, it’s the same again.”

They have shown that they can reverse their fortunes in the Calcutta Cup. If they can do the same against Wales, Scotland will head into Round 3 of the Guinness Six Nations two from two – a feat they have not achieved in the Six Nations era.