TWICKENHAM has been the graveyard for an awful lot of Scottish rugby dreams during the 37 years since the national team last tasted victory there, but Gregor Townsend reckons that recent history, and the unusual circumstances of this 150th anniversary meeting between the two sides, provides cause to believe that next Saturday’s match can be different.

“We’ll see, but you get a sense that should be the case given the competitiveness of our games over the past three years, and given it is an unusual year,” he said at yesterday morning’s virtual Six Nations launch. “Twickenham isn’t Twickenham this year because there will be no supporters there, plus the level of competition we have in our squad and the quality of player we have here all point in our direction, so that belief should be there.

“But, ultimately, it is what happens on the day. How you start the game? How you manage the moments when England have domination or momentum? And how you stay in the fight until the end?

“That is what we are building towards. We know the challenge that England bring. They are in great form and we have to be at our best to win down there. That would be the goal for all of us.”

While Townsend insists that Scotland are entitled to believe that they can derail the chariot before it has a chance of building momentum in this year’s championship, he stressed that he doesn’t expect the absence of five key English forwards in Mako Vunipola (ankle), Kyle Sinckler (banned), Joe Marler (personal reasons), Joe Launchbury (fibia) and Sam Underhill (hip) to make the task his side faces any easier.

“I don’t think it changes much, every team is going to be affected by injuries,” he reasoned. “England have got so much depth up front that they can put in some quality players and can go into the next two weeks with confidence in that squad that they have.

“We’ve got two experienced hookers – Fraser Brown and Stuart McInally – missing but it gives opportunities to other players.

“You plan for a type of rugby a team is going to bring, you plan for the strengths that they have but ultimately it’s down to what happens on the field and how that team is playing, the way they are playing and how you adapt to it and how you get your own strengths out there. We expect England to bring a very good game which is something they’ve done consistently over the last 12 months.”

Scotland’s last visit to Twickenham, on the final weekend of the 2019 Six Nations, was the closest near miss yet. Having been blown away by the hosts to be 31-0 down with as many minutes played, a try from McInally just before the break opened up a slight chink of sunlight, and then an awe-inspiring second half performance saw the visitors snatch a 38-31 lead as the game entered overtime. But a sensational end to the Twickenham hoodoo was not to be, with George Ford going over in the fourth minute of injury-time and then slotting the conversion to secure a last-gasp draw.

It was impossible to decide whether to laugh or cry at the end, and nobody who participated or observed the match is ever likely to forget what happened, but Townsend insists that his and his team’s focus is on more recent history than what happened two years’ ago.

“Improvement from our last campaign,” he flatly replied when asked what success in this Six Nations will look like for Scotland. “We want to be a better team every time we get together.

“We spent this week getting used to each other again, getting used to the principles of our attack and defence, and next week we’ll look ahead to what challenge England bring. Then it’ll be on to Wales the following week. We’ll enjoy the process and see where we are at the end of the championship.”

Townsend as a player, and during his early years as a coach, lived and died by the sword – but the bitter experience of Scotland’s 2019 World Cup flop has made him cautious. It might not be as much fun to watch, but he is convinced it is the correct approach to deliver what the nation really desires.

So, rather than looking back for inspiration from the 2019 game, it is more likely to be replayed in the Scotland team-room as a warning that those days of throwing caution to the wind and to hell with the consequences are not to be revisited.

“We understand the responsibility of giving people of Scotland a lift, and the best way of doing that is getting a win,” he said. “I don’t think the style of the game is that important to our people, it’s the win.

“I remember in 2000 when it snowed in the first 20 minutes of the game against England. There wasn’t much rugby played that day. I was at 13 and myself and Chris Paterson at full-back hardly touched the ball in the second half, but we won the game and the joy that brought to the people of shows what victories mean.

“I think it’s been overblown about the entertainment side and that’s hugely down to the fact there’s no supporters there,” he added. “The year before you’d get games with forward battles, lots of kicking, defences on top, but the atmospheres made it such a special occasion.

“We understand we don’t have supporters at the moment, but the contest is still going to be there and the team that wins that brings joy to their nation more than the style of rugby played.”