Rugby: Engaging biography points to caring side of Robinson

A DIFFERENT side of Scotland coach Andy Robinson from the one seen by Murrayfield fans – both Edinburgh’s and Scotland’s – has emerged in a graphic and poignant new rugby book.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 14th September 2011, 6:08 pm

Many will have seen Robinson banging the windows of the glass cubicle at the back of the West Stand either in frustration or joy at events unfolding on the pitch. Passion would be the obvious explanation for such actions and the emotional side of Robinson is certainly a strong element of Engage, The Fall and Rise of Matt Hampson, which tells the story of a 20-year-old prop forward who suffered a broken neck in a collapsed scrum and, as well as being paralysed and rendered tetraplegic, continues to require a ventilator to breathe.

At the time, March 15, 2005, Hampson was training with his national under-21s for a match against Scotland under-21s and Robinson was England’s senior coach.

While the book highlights friction between the Hampson family and the English governing body over the extent of their responsibility for care provision, Robinson is not only exempt from criticisms but painted as caring and compassionate – and perhaps the only such figure in a Twickenham hierarchy who, at worst, are portrayed as not exactly enamoured by the prospect of having a totem to what can go wrong turning up as a high profile guest at major matches.

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Part of a letter written by Robinson to Hampson’s parents, reads: “On behalf of the England squad I wanted to write . . . as a father of four myself I can only start to imagine how you must be feeling . .. if there is anything I can do to help . . . ”

Later, as tensions based on correspondence with the governing body increase, Robinson is recalled in further glowing terms by Mrs Anne Hampson, who says: “I have forwarded a copy of this letter to Andy Robinson who spent an afternoon with us and showed great compassion and empathy.”

Robinson is not the only connection with Edinburgh Rugby as it transpires one of Hampson’s closest friends is David Young, who was a fellow Leicester Tigers prop forward before moving back home. As he looks to develop his career with Leeds having been released by Edinburgh this summer, Young has still to fulfil the considerable potential many feel he possesses.

We can only speculate on what impact the horrendous injury sustained by his pal might have had on Young and every other player for that matter.

For, while Hampson through his ghost writer, Paul Kimmage, is committed to stressing the positives of how he comes to terms with adversity and eventually gets on with his life from a wheelchair – starting a business and coaching at club level – any rugby person in particular cannot fail to question some of the great game’s values and conclude “but for the grace of God”.

Such an assertion is prompted by not only a graphic description of the near fatal scrum collapse which resulted in a neck dislocation that trapped his spinal cord but particularly disturbing submissions to an inquiry by some of the game’s luminaries about what are euphemistically described as the front row’s “dark arts”.

Old hands will say such an approach is required to succeed and, more importantly, survive with the risk ever-present – though minimised in order to sell rugby to participants and spectators as a combative and highly charged pursuit.

Over the next few weeks as the World Cup unfolds there will be plenty of examples of this.

At least we can take some comfort from knowing the man calling the shots for Scotland has demonstrated through his actions in the direst of circumstances a true sense of perspective when it comes to sport – win, lose or draw.

One of the most powerful biographies I have read, and not just from a sporting viewpoint, Engage – The Fall and Rise of Matt Hampson, is published by Simon and Schuster at £16.99.