Will Robinson's bold selection pay off?
November 10, 2009
Has Phil Godman got the game management skills to inspire Scotland? © Getty Images
As Christmas approaches it seems only natural to turn to a man who rose from the dead and who now promises to lead us to a better place. I am talking of course about Andy Robinson.
The one-time red rose leader and possibly the most patriotic Englishman since St.George now coaches Scotland where he is seen as something of a saviour. Certainly his rehabilitation has been quick and painless with success at pro-team level backed up when he led the Scotland 'A' team to Nations Cup victory in Romania. You may scoff, and even I might snigger quietly in the background, but Scottish rugby hasn't won too much of anything recently and they beat a giant French XV in a truly competitive final.
Only yesterday Robbo announced his first Scotland XV and he stamped his authority all over the squad by making ten changes from the last time a Scotland team ran out onto the field against England at the end of last season's Six Nations. And here's the rub. Robinson was always recognised in England as a good coach, especially of forwards, where he was hung out to dry was his selection and the mere mention of Mathew Tait should nudge your memory as to why.
Robinson has picked a bold Scotland team but it has one large flaw. It includes no one who can kick a rugby ball very accurately or very far. Fly-half Phil Godman has his merits but a kicking game is not amongst them.
The Scotland coach has omitted the world's best goal kicker in the slight figure of Chris Paterson who starts on the bench. He has ignored the claims of Stade Francais fullback Hugo Southwell whose main weapon in his armoury is a huge left boot and he has overlooked Dan Parks. The Glasgow fly-half is a "Marmite" character, you either love him or loathe him. His presence on a rugby field means that the only real task of the outside backs is chasing his kicks, he crabs across the field with the ball and takes away their time and space, but at least he can put the ball in the right places on the field and that is a crucial aspect of modern rugby even for the most adventurous team.
Only a few weeks ago the All Blacks coach Graham Henry was moaning about the ubiquity of kicking in the game and suggesting that the law should be changed to encourage teams to attack with the ball in hand. New Zealand are the one team in world rugby that is known for attacking with the ball in hand and what did Dan Carter do for forty minutes in Cardiff? He leathered it downfield almost every time the ball came his way against Wales. He turned the Welsh back three and he ensured that, if Wales could launch a counter attack, at least they had to do so from their own half where the Kiwis scramble defence would feel confident of covering any gaps.
If the best fly-half in the world in the second best team on the planet is kicking as much as Carter did last weekend then Robinson should surely have the kicking option up his sleeve. He doesn't.
Instead he has invested his time in big, strong, physical runners like the two Lamont brothers, Sean and Rory, and Ulster's Simon Danielli. None of them are Matt Banahan, and thank heavens for that, but the back-three look a little one-dimensional, a tad too much muscle and not quite enough skills or sleight of hand, when up against the very best.
Only time will tell and Robinson will probably get away with the ploy against Fiji on Saturday but the Wallabies one week later should prove an altogether sterner test. With a new coach the Scots have shed their habitual gloom and some are even predicting Scotland's first win over Australia since 1982. It's possible but not very likely. In the sixteen consecutive defeats against Australia, Scotland have never (repeat, never) finished within single digits of the Wallabies.
Robinson is a good coach, not a miracle worker.
"The fans could not be happier with the opposition and it adds an exciting element to a game that is shaping up as a thriller." Ben Kay previews the Premiership final showdown
"If there was a cross breed of canine called an Underdogdoodle it would win best in show at Crufts." Mark Durden-Smith looks at the Aviva Premiership Final
With the Lions' tour to Australia fast-approaching, ESPN's Austin Healey and Mark Durden-Smith sat down to share their memories of the 2001 trip Down Under
Ask John answers questions on the Leopards' tour to Italy in 1974, brotherly Test sides, Pat McGrath, England's games against the Barbarians and Jacques Brunel