Following a disappointing World Cup in New Zealand, Scotland coach Andy Robinson knows rugby fans expect a vast improvement when the Six Nations kicks off with a clash against England at Murrayfield on February 4. Evening News reporter Bill Lothian took the chance to quiz Robinson as that Calcutta Cup clash nears . . .
BL – Thanks for the offer of an interview; from your point of view what sort of message are you trying to put across at this stage of the season?
AR – The key element is we are very disappointed with what happened in the World Cup in terms of not qualifying (for the quarter-finals). There were a number of issues in terms of what we did on the playing field in terms of missed opportunities, the number of errors that we compounded throughout the England and Argentina games and ultimately missing a drop goal at the end of the Argentina game. As you’ve seen with players coming back and players developed during the World Cup by the two pro teams there is a real sense of expectancy in Scottish rugby and that is great to see with the young players being given an opportunity. In the Edinburgh side I’ve identified David Denton. He was in the (extended) World Cup squad. Stuart McInally, the potential we saw in him three years ago playing for the under-20s. Also Harry Leonard and Matt Scott coming through. It is sometimes easy to see (Tim) Visser because of how he is scoring tries but Lee Jones is playing well this season. Greig (Laidlaw) has played well but I see Greig not as a young player but as an established name.
BL – How much scope do you have in the Six Nations for developing players. Or is it all about results?
AR – Every Scotland performance is still about winning. It’s key. The whole purpose of the national side is to win. Secondly it is how we gain consistency of selection and part of that is to blood young players through. If you look at the last couple of years Richie Gray has been playing consistently, Ruaridh Jackson has been brought in. It’s taking those opportunities and making sure when we bring through young players they are able to succeed.
BL – How long did it take you to adapt to the system in Scotland where, in the case of Richie Gray, efforts can be made to keep him in Scotland through the governing body. It’s totally different in England . . .
AR – I was in the system with Edinburgh and knew the system works well here. Contracting of players helps in terms of your relationship with players and other coaches but ultimately what’s important is that Edinburgh and Glasgow are able to make decisions for Edinburgh and Glasgow and not just for the national team.
BL – Are there any tensions between pro team coaches and the national set-up?
AR – What I do believe in is that every player must be at their best coming to play for Scotland. And if you look at the nature of the season at this period coming into the Six Nations it is 13 weeks of really hard rugby. You wouldn’t expect any player to be able to withstand playing week after week and then come into the Six Nations being able to peak. There has to be rest built in that can enable the players to play at their best whenever they play for Edinburgh and Glasgow and also Scotland. .
BL – Why not be like the Irish, who highlight a national rotation policy rather than leave fans wondering if players are injured?
AR – I think I have been pretty open about it. Players are on plans. From Aironi (onwards) it is brilliant rugby for Edinburgh with Cardiff back to back leading into a Glasgow double-header.
BL – Should we be concerned in any way with what’s happening at Twickenham and what sort of threat will Stuart Lancaster and Graham Rowntree pose as interim coaches?
AR – They will be as big a threat as they have ever been. Also they have nothing to lose, it will be an interim coaching team. What we have to understand is that the last two times we’ve played England we’ve performed well but not won. We have to break this unlucky losers’ tag of playing well but just losing at the wire.
BL – Can we take that as a vote of confidence in Gregor Townsend, the attack coach?
AR – Gregor is a very good coach with real potential. He has a very good rugby brain. He understands the game and is able to communicate that to the players.
BL – A lot of people will say when you get to coaching the national side potential should have been fulfilled . . .
AR – The one thing Gregor has not had is coaching experience. That’s something you can’t deny. The way he has coached national team I’ve been pleased with.
BL – So you sacrifice a bit of experience to get the benefit of the knowledge he has picked up playing in Scotland, England, Australia, France and South Africa?
AR - . . . and his ability to communicate with the players.
BL – You’ve said you don’t use pre-ordained substitutes but there is some pretty compelling evidence that things have been happening at the same time . . .
AR – You can ask the players what substitutes are actually told. I’ve made substitutions after 25 minutes. First thing you are obviously looking at is injuries, how they have performed? How much more can they give? The other ones are tactical. Take the Georgia game. I made one substitution. I go into every game and we make the calls based on what we are seeing. For example, Richie Gray against Argentina was due to injury.
BL – But you get situations where players stay on where they might have been pulled earlier. Versus Argentina, Chris Paterson had played outstandingly well, then started to look wobbly . . .
AR – Richie Vernon came on because of an injury to Kelly Brown. The other changes that were made . . . one of the issues we had in previous years was cramping and we’ve been able to deal with that so less people are cramping.
BL – There were wholesale changes between games in the World Cup. Why?
AR – With every selection there was no rule. We had 30 very good players all competing for their slots so with a four day turn around going into the Georgia game where we needed the whole squad. Every selection was to give us best chance and in every game we got ourselves into winning situations.
BL – On the subject of coaches, are you available for the (2013) Lions?
AR – Contractually, I am available to coach. But you have to be asked.
BL – If you are asked?
AR (laughing) – That’s hypothetical (but) to be involved in a Lions tour for a coach and a player is a huge honour. My first aim is to get as many of the Scotland players performing as Lions so they can get selected.
BL – That’s the upside then to the fact the Lions could be seen to be warming up Australia, New Zealand and South Africa for World Cups?
AR – They’re great tours . . .