Robinson taking away the excuses
February 8, 2011
Andy Robinson offered no excuses for defeat © Getty Images
International sport is a funny old business. Ireland won away from home on the opening weekend of the Six Nations and the collective mindset of the nation feels like someone just ran over the pet dog.
In contrast, the Scots were well beaten in Paris, lucky to concede just four tries. They had their much-vaunted scrum slowly dismantled, piece by painful piece, before their very eyes and yet the mood of the country's rugby fans is surprisingly upbeat. At least, the lads I bumped into on Saturday night were pretty cheerful and it wasn't just thanks to a bucketload of beer. Scotland scored three tries! In Paris! That's as many as they managed in the entire Six Nations Championship last season.
France may have looked a little lacklustre in defence, the pace of the game ensured that much, but Les Bleus unearthed all their attacking panache and bravado and put it to good use, capitalising on four Scottish turnovers for each of their tries.
That is the point that Andy Robinson fixed upon, emphasised, underlined and repeated after the match. He could have simply said that the Scots were beaten by a better team on the day, because that was the simple truth, but Robinson wouldn't dream of it...he doesn't do excuses.
Remember he cut his international teeth with Clive Woodward, who insisted on the best of everything for his England team to the extent that he once moved the squad from one second rate hotel to a better one and put down his own credit card to facilitate the move. Why? He did it because he wanted to take away any excuses his players might have fallen back on if/when they lost the ensuing Test match.
Past Scotland coaches have offered excuses, with one going so far as to insist that Madagascar boasted more rugby players than Scotland. Hell, it turns out it's true. Madagascar boasts almost twice as many adult male rugby players as Scotland does, but so what? The statistic is meaningless and worse than that, it's downright unhelpful.
Every time a player was reminded about the Madagasgar statistic he was given an excuse to lose, even if only at a subliminal level. Robinson takes away the excuse to lose and replaces it with a way to win. Hence his post-match assertion in Paris that the Scots had contributed to their own downfall by turning over ball in ugly positions to a dangerous opponent. Had they not done so they could have given themselves a chance to win, and he was right.
France's first try: Nick De Luca turned over in a tackle by Maxime Mermoz. France's second try: Scotland put in at a five metre scrum, Euan Murray concedes a penalty and France opt to go again. France's third try: Mike Blair's nothing kick allows the French to counter. France's fourth try: Max Evans' blind over-the-shoulder pass is intercepted and Maxime Medard sparks the move for Damien Traille's score.
A very good French team with their tails up and Le Marseillaise ringing in their ears threatened to cut loose against the Scots after tries number one (3 mins) and three (54 mins) but rather than buckle this Scottish squad knuckled down and scored two late tries of their own to keep the score respectable.
Robinson has always insisted that the players have control over what they do on the field. If someone plays well then they will selected for Scotland. If everyone in blue plays well then Scotland will win Test matches.
Incidentally, Medard won the Man of the Match award and having looked at the video again no one could really complain. He took his opportunity brilliantly, he got an assist for one other score and he would have carved out another for Imanol Harinordoquy had Dan Parks not intercepted his pass.
For all that, the 6' 9" figure of Richie Gray was a tower of strength for the Scots. The giant lock stopped two certain tries, he picked a beautiful line to start the move that ended in Al Kellock's try and he made one brilliant run out of defence. He was immense in every sense of the word and he is still only 21. If Gray remains free of any serious injury he is going to win an awful lot of caps for Scotland before he's through.
Here's my squad to beat Wales:
H Southwell; S Danielli, J Ansbro, N De Luca, M Evans; D Parks, R Lawson, A Jacobsen, R Ford, E Murray, A Kellock, R Gray, K Brown, J Barclay, R Vernon
Replacements: D Hall, M Low, N Hines, J Beattie, M Blair, R Jackson, S Lamont.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter