Scotland's missed opportunity
October 5, 2011
Dan Parks cuts a frustrated figure during Scotland's agonising defeat by England © Getty Images
It's never much fun having to quit the party while it's in full flow, especially when you can't even blame your parents for hauling you out the front door by the ear at 10.30pm while things are still warming up. Scotland have only themselves to blame. They should have beaten Argentina. They could have beaten England. It didn't happen.
Is it the curse of the four-year contract? Just before RWC'07 Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan penned a four-year deal only to lose his job six months later after following up a disastrous World Cup campaign with an equally depressing Six Nations campaign. Andy Robinson also signed up until 2015 ahead of his team's exploits in New Zealand but the little Englishman is safe, at least for the time being. He retains the confidence of his Murrayfield paymasters and, as best anyone from the outside can tell, the respect of most of the Scotland players.
However, Martin Johnston is not the only English coach to have made some gaffs down under. In no particular order here are a list of Robinson's blunders which could have made a difference in matches that are determined, as he so often reminds us, in inches:
1. He appointed a captain, Al Kellock, who could not automatically command a place in the best XV.
2. As a result of the above, he was forced to drop his team captain from the matchday 22 not once but twice, against Georgia and Argentina.
3. Scotland were criminally complacent against Romania and never really recovered from coming within 10 minutes of losing their opening game.
4. Dangerous runners like scrum-half Chris Cusiter and fullback Rory Lamont were criminally underused.
5. While Hadden copped flak for fielding two giant scrummagers in the second-row (Nathan Hines and Jim Hamilton) Robinson did the opposite against England, pairing two aerial specialists in Richie Gray and Kellock. Where's the balance?
6. That still didn't help the restarts, which cost them that crucial try against Argentina and a drop goal against England.
7. His substitutions were downright bizarre. Why take Allan Jacobsen off against England when he had parity or even a marginal advantage over Dan Cole?
8. Seven changes (six personnel, one positional, one enforced) between the Argentina and England matches suggest that the coach didn't really know his best team.
9. He tried to play an expansive game without the personnel to match his personal ambitions or without the right coaching expertise.
10. Robinson appointed a full-time backs coach in Gregor Townsend who had zero experience of coaching a rugby team prior to being elevated to Frank Hadden's management group on a part-time basis. Scotland failed to score a try in 240 minutes of rugby (three Tests).
And there's the rub. Scotland scored a total of four tries throughout the World Cup while Italy and Argentina, neither side noted for the fluidity of their back play, have each scored 13 and 10 respectively in the same number of matches. Only Georgia and Romania scored fewer tries than Scotland in the pool stages, with three apiece.
Robinson is a canny whipper-in of forward packs but he badly needs help with a back-line that boasts some dangerous runners (Sean Lamont, Max Evans, Simon Danielli) but which is hopelessly lacking in tactical acumen, vision, inspiration and good old-fashioned set-piece plays.
I noted two against England and both occurred from lineouts. In the first, Mike Blair ran into a white brick wall at the back of the line. In the second, Chris Paterson ran into the same wall. The two slightest men in the Scotland squad were used as battering rams (perhaps that should be 'knocking politely rams') because the coaches couldn't devise a move that actually pulled opposition players out of position and opened up a gap.
Following the disappointment of becoming the first Scotland squad not to make the World Cup quarter-finals Robinson insisted that the supporters should be proud of their boys. I'm not so sure.
No one doubts the effort that went into winning. Scotland's forwards dominated the Pumas for great swathes of the match and stood toe to toe with England for an hour or so, but this is the World Cup, where the shedding of blood, sweat and tears are a given. Every team brings their best to bear come the big one, with the occasional exception of France, but rugby is about more than just effort and exhaustion.
Rugby requires nous, intelligence, vision, pace, skill, decision making and the ability to bamboozle your opponents as well as bludgeoning them into submission. The Scotland squad gave us oceans of effort, rivers of sweat, but they were hopelessly short of the other armaments required to thrive in top class rugby.
The truth is that the Scots exited the most open World Cup in history without ever properly announcing their arrival. They failed to make a splash, lacking inspiration they inspired no one, they lost a golden opportunity to showcase the best that Scottish rugby has to offer.
Andy Robinson's position as Scotland head coach has been confirmed but he badly needs a fresh approach to galvanise a hopelessly one-dimensional side.
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