Robinson undone by leading players
November 25, 2012
Andy Robinson brought an end to his stint in charge of Scotland by resigning from his post on Sunday © PA Photos
I called Andy Robinson on my way back home from Aberdeen on Saturday evening and left a message not really expecting him to return the favour only to be surprised.
He expressed again on the phone how devastated he was at the loss to Tonga and he thanked me for my support over his three and a half years at the top of Scottish rugby. I didn't pick up on it at the time but in retrospect it sounded valedictory. So too did his assertion in the post match conference that there would be "consequences"...he wasn't joking.
I suggested on Saturday that it was stupid to make a hasty decision in the height of emotion and, while he agreed, the decision had almost certainly already been made in his own mind. He has already been through the mill with England and, while there was merit in seeing out the Six Nations, he was not prepared to put himself or his family through the wringer one more time.
The first Englishman to coach Scotland will split opinion. On the one hand Robinson achieved some notable things with his adopted side including leading them to their first win over the Wallabies in 27 years. He also took them to Argentina in 2010 and returned with a series win under his belt, the first time Scotland have managed that south of the equator.
But arguably more important than the wins, he still ended with a 50% record against the big three from the Southern Hemisphere despite recent losses to New Zealand and South Africa, was the fact that Robbo attempted to revolutionise Scottish back play. He almost always picked a team to attack with the ball in hand even if he didn't have the players to execute his commands on the pitch.
In effect this meant that he picked players before they were ready with the poor benighted Tom Heathcote just the last and most obvious example in a long line. The Bath fly-half along with Matt Scott, Tim Visser and Stuart Hogg are all talented players but they wouldn't get near any other national squad in Europe with the possible, but not certain, exception of Italy.
His insistence on picking skill over muscle may have been taken too far because most of the best teams in world rugby still boast a midfield back who can get their team over the gain line when needs must. Scotland needed just such a body on Saturday as the backline were very literally powerless in the face of an aggressive Tongan defence that took away time and space and left them with nothing else but to run head first into a red brick wall with the inevitable consequences.
Robinson's Six Nations record was woeful, two wins in three seasons, but he was ultimately undone by the poor performance of several leading players. Ross Ford has been so bad that the Lions' hooker could not even command a place on the bench. Jim Hamilton has looked sluggish all series. Robinson doesn't have an international class fly-half to call upon. John Barclay is out of form and has been for a couple of years. Ross Rennie is injured. Mark Bennett is too young and inexperienced.
Meanwhile his skipper Kelly Brown took some dumb decisions not to kick at goal on Saturday when, had he opted to convert just half of the kicks he directed to touch, Scotland would have been 15-3 up at half time and the Tongans would have had one foot on the plane home and dreaming of some quality beach time.
It says something that Robinson refused to condemn his captain for his decision making in the immediate aftermath of the match although he may rue those same calls when he grows old and grey.
Most important of all was the absence of Ryan Grant from Saturday's Test team. The prop forward was a late call off with a tweaked calf. In just five appearances for Scotland the loose-head has made himself a corner stone of the Scottish scrum and his carrying and tackling in the wide open spaces mark him as one to watch. With Grant the number one short Scotland would almost certainly have milked a penalty try either in the first half, when they were camped on the Tongan line, or at the death when Scotland had two scrums only to see the ball squirt out of the second one and with that their last chance of salvaging something, Robinson's career as it turned out, was gone.
The coach has always maintained that Test matches are decided by marginal calls and so, it appears, is his own career.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Iain Morrison writes for the Scotland on Sunday newspaper and has been a regular contributor to Scrum.com since 1999.