Time ticking for Robinson
August 10, 2011
Despite Scotland's win over Ireland - Andy Robinson still has much to ponder before the World Cup © Getty Images
"Sorry I didn't get back to you," says Andy Robinson with studied understatement. "I've been a little bit busy."
With the World Cup less than a month away, this is the time that every national coach earns their keep and none more so than the Scotland boss who must somehow maintain his adopted country's proud record of never having missed out on the quarter-finals of the big one.
Only this time Scotland are seeded third in their group behind Argentina and England.
Here are just a few of the things that are keeping Robbo busy between now and Scotland's opening game against Romania.
1 - Find enough cotton wool to cover Allan Jacobsen
The little loose-head is the only international quality No.1 in the Scotland squad. Ally Dickinson struggles against the best in the world and, in Argentina, England and Georgia, that is exactly who Scotland are facing. Indeed tight-head specialist Geoff Cross is said to be doing almost as much training on the left (loose-head) side of the scrum as he is on his one preferred right-hand side.
2 - Pray to whatever Deity he follows that Ruaridh Jackson comes good
Scotland don't have a Test-class fly-half which is a shame but there is no point crying about it. Instead they have Jackson who does some things very well while making way too many mistakes. Against Ireland last weekend, the Scots' playmaker took the ball to the line and his passing vision allowed the likes of Nikki Walker and Sean Lamont to break the Irish line more than once. Against that, he looked horribly indecisive at times and twice he threw passes so far forward that Joe Montana would have been proud to claim them. Unless Jackson cuts out the mistakes Scotland will struggle.
3 - Beast Johnnie Beattie
Cast your mind back to Dublin in 2010 if you want to recall just how influential the Scotland No.8 can be and then remember his muted appearance against the same team in last season's Six Nations if you want the flip side. Scotland need Beattie at his best because they are short of big, athletic ball carriers and Beattie responds to the stick rather than the carrot. He should start against Italy (after doing the same against Ireland) because he needs game time and lots of it.
4 - Work out his split
The usual World Cup forwards/backs split is 16/14 but England are reportedly looking at a 17/13 and Scotland's English coach is rumoured to be doing something similar. Props are a problem position so take five of them because you will always use three in any match, or so the thinking goes. However, doubts hover over Euan Murray's Achilles heel. If Murray is declared fit to travel, even if he misses the Romania match, Robinson will be tempted to take five props and 17 forwards. If Murray drops out of the equation then he will make do with four props and add an extra utility back.
5 - Select his skipper
This is easier said than done when the lack of leadership has been an issue in Scotland for years. The candidates would appear to be Al Kellock or Chris Cusiter but the former may not make Scotland's best XV (Hines and Gray anyone?) while the latter is Robbo's other injury concern. Cusiter is sitting out the warm-up games with a calf injury and his coach admitted that the scrum-half (along with Murray) was struggling for fitness. Robinson also hinted that he would take both men if they could hop onto the plane so we'll see. Rory Lawson is another contender but a fully fit Cusiter would probably claim the starting shirt. It's a tough call but a vital one.
6 - Choose his weapon
Robinson has two genuinely difficult men to mark in Max Evans and Joe Ansbro albeit for very different reasons. Evans has a great step to beat a man while Ansbro tends to run straight lines and rely on pure pace. One of these two will end up in the all-important No.13 jersey. The other may well occupy one wing berth. Who is asked to act as "facilitator" and who becomes the finisher is going to be important for a side that doesn't score many tries.
7 - Find a fullback
It's an odd one this when Scotland boast in Chris Paterson a man who has 100+ caps to his name and goodness knows how many points. However, Paterson was found out by Ireland where he was isolated and turned over repeatedly and his lack of physical presence will have been duly noted by the big fish in Scotland's World Cup pool. If Robinson is opting for a running game (and with Jackson at No.10 it much looks very much like it) then Rory Lamont is much the better attacker with the ball in hand.
The problem is that no one knows where the younger Lamont's head will be over the next few months including - you have to suspect - Lamont himself.
In other words Robinson must somehow paper over some pretty big cracks in this squad while whistling up a following wind and praying for the benevolence of the rugby Gods....but when did a Scotland coach do any different?
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