Robinson targets return to winning ways
January 21, 2010
Scotland coach Andy Robinson is all smiles as he announced his Six Nations squad © PA Photos
Scotland boss Andy Robinson has set his sights on making a winning start to this year's Six Nations.
The former England coach, who took charge of Scotland last summer following the departure of Frank Hadden, named a 30-man squad for his side's opening games against France and Wales at Murrayfield yesterday and welcomed the increased competition for places.
"I'm pleased with the squad," Robinson said. "It's a mixture of players that played well in the autumn and a number of players coming in who have reached some form and are coming back from injuries. When I look at the players I've left out of the squad, it shows the quality now that we have."
Scotland recorded victories over Australia and Fiji in the autumn but defeat at the hands of Argentina ended hopes of a rare clean sweep. Robinson admitted there was still plenty of work to do ahead of his first Six Nations as Scotland's head coach and has made several changes to his squad as they target their first northern hemisphere title since 1999. Amongst those to return are Glasgow duo Dan Parks and Ruaridh Jackson.
The uncapped Jackson, 21, has only recently recovered from a serious shoulder injury while Parks has propelled Glasgow to the top of the Magners League and in the process the 31-year-old has become the competition's record points scorer.
"Ruaridh would have been in the squad in the autumn had he not got injured in that first match of the season," Robinson told PA Sport. "Dan's consistency of performance, I've been really pleased about. He's been driving the Glasgow team, the Glasgow team's been playing well, and he's been a key reason for that. He'll be an asset to us in terms of the first two games."
The pair will put pressure on incumbent Phil Godman, who had been guaranteed his place in the side during the autumn. "Competition for places all the way through is what's important for us and it's what drives and improves performance," Robinson said. "We've got to improve our standards. Competition for places challenges that and puts players under pressure to get into the team. That's what we want right across the board."
The addition of Parks and Jackson immediately trebled their country's pool of specialist fly-halves and eases concerns over a lack of depth in the key play-making position.
"We have three good fly halves," Robinson told The Times. "Ruaridh [Jackson] is young, has a lot of learning to do, is athletic, goes to the line, has a very good head on his shoulders, a good passing game. I have worked with Phil [Godman] for a number of years and he's a talented fly half. He brings other people into the game, has outstanding passing skills and, as a runner, is quicker than some flankers would think in his ability to scuttle past players.
"In Dan [Parks] you have got a real competitor and a leader. He contributes well in games, has good passing skills, a tactical awareness of how to get the scoreboard ticking over and he can dominate territory with his kicking game. You have a mixture there."
Robinson was not afraid to wield the axe with four of his former Edinburgh charges amongst those not to make the grade. Ben Cairns, Geoff Cross, Kyle Traynor and Scott MacLeod were the men to miss out, along with the Ospreys' Nikki Walker.
"It's a tough call," Robinson added. "But I want really to focus in France and Wales and it's important that we get good performances and winning results in those two games. The key aspect for us was to focus on that and, therefore, I had to make those tough choices now."
There was one more uncapped player selected, with 20-year-old Glasgow flanker Richie Gray rewarded for his recent performances. Co-captain Mike Blair was left out of the main squad as he recovers from an ankle injury picked up during the November Tests. But the scrum-half was one of four players invited to train at next week's four-day camp at St Andrews. The others were Jim Thompson - the uncapped grandson of the late Bill McLaren - Ross Rennie and Jon Welsh.
The squad also included forward trio Euan Murray, Alasdair Dickinson and Jim Hamilton, all three of whom missed the autumn internationals through injury. Toulon fullback Rory Lamont - who has only recently returned to action - may yet be added for the France game, provided he comes through a club match on Wednesday unscathed.