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Watch: Stanger’s try to win 1990 Calcutta Cup for Scotland
|2020 Guinness Six Nations: Scotland v England|
|Venue: Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh Date: Saturday, 8 February Kick-off: 16:45 GMT|
|Coverage: Watch on BBC One; listen BBC Radio 5 Live & BBC Radio Scotland; live text commentary on the BBC Sport website & app.|
When a fixture has been played for longer than any other in its sport, you can feel its weight and the history of it chasing you down the years.
Scotland against England is 149 years old. It never feels tired because beneath the great narratives of rivalry and animosity and friendship lie the fresh plotlines that light up every new chapter.
There are maybe more cliches to lose yourself in around this game than any other in rugby, not least because it is so familiar.
Old enemies. Brutal battles. An atmosphere unlike anything else in the rugby world.
Sometimes, but not always. It’s a match where the expected result usually comes to pass. Only one of the past 10 meetings between the two has gone Scotland’s way. It often falls flat. It’s a day that can feel predictable until the moment it isn’t.
And then it’s alive. You can wait an age for the one that no-one forgets, and that’s almost the point. It’s the hope that thrills you. It’s the damp squibs that keep you coming back.
Strolling out of town west along Haymarket Terrace, it’s scarf sellers and cans in hand. One for the road at Ryrie’s Bar, on towards Roseburn Street and the little bar on the corner. People piling off the tram from the city centre, others coming in shared cars and Range Rovers up the A703 from Peebles or the A7 from Selkirk, Melrose and Galashiels, those Borders towns like a tour round memories of the Grandstand vidiprinter as club results used to come in on a Saturday afternoon.
It can feel just as cold as the most northern Six Nations city should do when the wind comes in off the Pentland Hills. The stadium itself has changed so much since the last Scottish Grand Slam, those metal girders creeping over the top of the stands, so much grey concrete to go with the dark blue seats and the white saltires, but there are still old quirks too – the cricket pitches in Roseburn Park to one side, the train tracks without a stop on the south side and the ice rink out back. Even those expensive grandstands have given the ground an idiosyncratic lop-sided feel.
Scotland will look to harness the spirit of 1990’s famous victory over England
Inside everything is cramped and cosy. The press box is narrow and tight, and dangerously close to the two greenhouses where the coaches and analysts sit, cut off more than any others in the stadium from the noise and ferment.
For the well-heeled in that stand it is tartan blankets on knees and hip-flasks to hand. Elsewhere are the beers and the noise and the abuse.
For England supporters up for the scenic weekend the journey out to the south-west suburbs of the Scottish capital is a rousing one rather than a walk on the wild side. When it’s bitterly cold you just spend more time in the bars. The sunny days just mean you can spend more time gawking at the impossible city-centre scenery.
Fear and loathing? 1990 had a fair amount of that, off the back of the Poll Tax and the Conservative government that introduced it north of the border before south, but there have been so many stale years since, seasons when England came and went with bodywork barely dented.
All the way to 1989 the anthem played before kick-off for the home team was God Save The Queen. Only when David Sole led his team out on that famous day did Flower of Scotland take hold.
Lewis Ludlam kicked up headlines this week when he talked of sport as conflict. “We want to be brutal. It’s going to be a war, and it’s something we’re excited about. They hate us and we hate them.”
He’s a young player early in his international career. You can maybe forgive the easy descent into hyperbole. But something else he said told you almost as much about this fixture: “For my second cap away at Wales there were old ladies and kids giving you the finger going into the stadium.”
Scotland’s first match against England at Murrayfield was in 1925 when the home team won and went on to secure their first Grand Slam
That doesn’t happen at Murrayfield, a more genteel place even for this fixture than Cardiff can be, partly because rugby union does not have the same hold over as great a proportion of the nation as it does in Wales, partly because the stadium is a 40-minute stroll from the middle of town rather than unmissable in the guts of the city like the Principality.
Wales have won four Grand Slams in the past 15 years. Scotland have been waiting as long for their next as Liverpool have a league title. Unlike at Anfield, there is no realistic end in sight any time soon.
The cliches will tell you too that Scotland need the weather to unleash hell if they are to upset England, as when Duncan Hodge dived through the puddles for the winning try in 2000, as in those narrow six-point squeakers in 2006 and 2008.
But when Scotland ransacked England 25-13 two years ago it was on a flawless afternoon, all golden winter sun and unbroken blue overhead. The gales and deluge forecast for this Saturday will do little to help a home side who like to put the ball through hands with pace more than any other team in the championship.
Atmospheres can leach away at Scotland v England. Sporting logic takes over. One side has the playing and financial resources to gradually steamroller the other.
That day in 2018 it didn’t. It began loud and got louder. Scottish turnovers were celebrated like tries. Supporters were leaping in their seats when England were penalised at the scrum. White-shirted knock-ons triggered wild choruses.
Centre Huw Jones scored two tries in Scotland’s victory at Murrayfield in 2018
And so history taps at English ankles once more. England have won on only three of their last seven trips to Edinburgh. Eddie Jones’ men have lost five of their last seven away games in the Six Nations. When they lose at Murrayfield it can never not be a heart-breaker, as with the lost Slams of 1990 and 2000, and it can lead to an unravelling, as when they plummeted to an eventual fifth in the final table in 2018.
They should win on Saturday. That’s the point. It’s not stepping into a Cardiff bearpit and it’s not taking on the unholy noise of Dublin.
But no-one is sure, because all those years of fighting and posturing and wondering have left an indelible mark.
“I wouldn’t be able to tell you the history. It doesn’t really affect me,” England centre Ben Te’o said in the build-up two years ago. “You’re always going to have an away fixture with a hostile crowd. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.”
Te’o had changed his mind by nightfall. And so you listen instead to Scotland’s number eight this weekend, Magnus Bradbury, and all the old stories and fables that you absorb down the years.
“It’s hard to explain, but it has more of an edge to it than any other game,” he said. “It seems that everyone in Edinburgh goes a little bit mental when it’s up here.
“If you’re not up for this game, you’re not going to be up for anything. Playing England at home at Murrayfield, it’s the biggest game you’ll ever play in.”