Tempo is all for Scots
June 8, 2010
Can Dan Parks put a smile on Andy Robinson's face in Argentina? © Getty Images
While I hesitate to give any life advice to the readers of Scrum.com there are a few things that are just too obvious to ignore. You should never argue religion or politics with anyone from a country beginning with an "I" (Ireland, Israel, Iraq, Indonesia). Under no circumstances should you punch a policeman and finally, no team should ever take the Pumas on at their own game, especially in Tucumán of all places.
Scotland play Argentina next Saturday and they must do so without the muscular input of both lock Nathan Hines and tight-head Euan Murray. The big Aussie is spending time with his wife following the untimely death of his mother-in-law while Murray's ankles require some R&R rather than a severe going over in South America. Even with these two, the Scots would be foolhardy to take on Argentina in a war of attrition, without them it would be madness.
But can a leopard change its spots? It is a question that Andy Robinson will have been pondering for much of the 14-hour flight from London to Buenos Aires last Friday. He will hope so. Dan Parks won three Man of the Match awards in the Six Nations, he pretty much has to start at No.10 for Scotland in Tucumán, but the playmaker needs to get the backline firing some live rounds if Scotland are to have any chance of winning.
It's a tall order for the Aussie who never likes to get too close to the rough stuff. The more dominant the opposition pack, the further Parks drops back from the action until it is all the scrummy can do to reach his man. Robinson claimed recently that Parks had proved a threat with the ball in hand in recent matches, especially against Ireland, but if the Scotland coach noticed this threat it is not obvious that the Irish defence did. Parks needs to be coaxed to play flat to the advantage line or his centres will receive the ball fifteen yards behind the gain line and will be lucky if they are tackled ten yards back.
Parks has a way of grabbing the limelight; remember that interception in Buenos Aires two years ago? But he is not a one-man team. Skipper Chris Cusiter travelled with an injury and looks doubtful for the first match but whichever scrum-half starts on Saturday will need to keep the pace of the game high and hope that Scotland can take advantage of a tiring Pumas' pack. The Pumas front-row will look something like this: Rodrigo Roncero (33), Mario Ledesma (37) and Martin Scelzo (34) while the Scots will field Allan Jacobsen (31) and Ross Ford (26) and Moray Low (25), the latter two barely out of short trousers. The Scots need to make the Argentine "Dad's Army" feel every one of those years.
Tempo is all. If the Pumas are allowed to jog from set-piece to set-piece play they will squeeze the life out of the Scots, especially at the breakdown. As recently as last November Argentina beat Scotland at Murrayfield and that was fielding several home-based semi-professional players. With the French season finished, Scotland will face an Argentina team bolstered by its Top 14 contingent. In fact the only important piece of the jigsaw that is missing is Juan Martin Hernandez, who is still getting treatment on a bad back, but even then the return of skipper Felipe Contepomi will go a long way towards papering that crack.
Robinson stated recently that the Pumas' skipper was the best in the world "on his day" and Contepomi returns the favour, calling Robinson "one of the best coaches in the world". This mutual admiration has its roots back in 2006 when Argentina effectively ended Robinson's tenure as England coach with their first ever win at Twickenham.
After the historic match a few of the Pumas, including Contepomi and scrum-half Agustin Pichot, sought out the England coach to offer a word of commiseration, even as they were celebrating. That simple gesture of humanity from one rugby man to another made a lasting impression on Robinson and if he wasn't already a Pumas fan he was hooked from that moment on.
Robinson himself toured with England back in 1990, just eight years after the Falklands War, when, before the introduction of touch judges with microphones, instant playbacks and citings, rugby was a much more violent game. The coach talks about some of the shenanigans that went on in Tucumán, where the crowd are kept from the field by a large fence but still make their presence felt with oranges and bottles raining down on the opposition.
Scotland will receive a friendlier welcome on Saturday but it will still be several light years away from their last outing, a genteel stretch against what was probably Japan's 3rd XV at Murrayfield. If they play like they did that night they will lose to Argentina by 100 points. Of course they will be better and the match will be closer, but it is still difficult to see the Scots winning unless Parks has reinvented himself as a running fly-half. Robinson may wish it, but that doesn't make it so.
Iain Morrison won 15 caps for Scotland between 1993 and 1995 and is the rugby correspondent for The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday newspapers