Ireland 32-14 Scotland, Six Nations
March 10, 2012
Lock Ritchie Gray's try was a rare high point for the Scots against Ireland © Getty Images
It wasn't supposed to be like this. This year's Six Nations was supposed to be a showcase for his coaching talents and serve as a springboard to the British & Irish Lions job for their trip to Australia in 2013 but instead Scotland coach Andy Robinson finds himself battling to save his reputation.
The Scots' defeat to Ireland in Dublin was their sixth straight loss and Robinson has now presided over two wins in 14 Six Nations games. It is a miserable return and there is no escaping that harsh truth. Victory over Italy in their wooden spoon decider in Rome next weekend - which is by no means a foregone conclusion - may ease the pressure on Robinson a little but will not be enough to lift the gloom. The fact that the Scots' season will once again be defined by their fortunes against Italy must be infuriating for those who long for higher aspirations.
Robinson is not short of supporters with many insisting he is the right man to be guiding Scotland towards the 2015 Rugby World Cup - including the Scottish Rugby Union who handed him a fresh contract 12 months ago that extends beyond the sport's next global gathering. Such support from a Union convinced he has Scotland on the right track is priceless because there is little doubt that he would be looking for a new job were he working for any other major nation.
The announcement of his contract renewal came on the back of a record of seven wins and a draw in his first 14 Tests in charge and there was further joy at victories over Australia and South Africa. But since then his side have slumped to 11th in the IRB rankings, behind such rugby powerhouses as Samoa and Tonga, and failed to reach the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in the tournament's history.
His SRU bosses are clearly content to play the long game having given the green light to the addition of former Wallabies assistant coach and Wales boss Scott Johnson to the backroom team while another high profile recruit - Reds assistant Matt Taylor - is also reportedly poised to join the effort. The absence of a three-Test series against one of the southern hemisphere heavyweights this summer may offer some kind of respite - with just one clash against Australia slated for June - but a date with Fiji may not be as attractive as first thought. Defeat at the hands of one of the sport's lesser lights, no matter how far away from prying eyes, will surely have a seismic impact on Robinson's tenure.
Of course, the blame cannot be solely laid at Robinson's feet and many have already pinpointed the players' failure to deliver - time and time again. He has been let down by some who seem unable to execute under the Six Nations or World Cup spotlight but others rightly question why a coach cannot bring the best out of his players.
Robinson is blessed with some world-class talent in the likes of lock Ritchie Gray while the emergence of such players as No.8 David Denton offer reason for hope but Scottish fans starved of success will demand more than promise and results here and now. That is what makes their latest showing against the Irish a little alarming as in Robinson's own words, it was "a step back". In particular, a lineout previously untouchable faltered badly and their failure to trouble the scoreboard after the break was a throw back to their toothless past. Italy will smell blood in the water and the Scots have it all to do to stop this season veering from bad to worse.
Andrew Trimble goes over for Ireland © Getty Images
In contrast, Ireland appear to be on the up. A patched-up side feeling the effects of an intense schedule comfortably accounted for their celtic rivals to add some further gloss to their campaign. Their title hopes had faded come kick off in Dublin due to Wales' victory over Italy but there was no lack of effort with stand-in skipper Rory Best leading by example to propel his side to back-to-back victories for the first time at their hi-tech home.
They will tackle England next Saturday with second place in the Championship the best they can hope for but they could quite have easily been playing for the Grand Slam at Twickenham. A dodgy decision or two arguably robbed them of victory against Wales in their opener while they had themselves to blame for letting a winning lead slip against France last time out. Such are the fine margins in elite sport.
Given the way his side have met the demands of four Test clashes in as many weeks, a favourable result at English rugby's HQ could well see Ireland coach Declan Kidney benefit from Robinson's falling stock when it comes to the Lions but like the Championship itself, you sense the glory is destined for Wales.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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