Andy Robinson was today continuing to weigh up his future as Scotland head coach after his players clung to the few positives from an RBS Six Nations campaign which ended with the wooden spoon.
Scotland lost 13-6 to Italy in Rome on Saturday to suffer a Six Nations whitewash for the first time since 2004. Their only points came from two Greig Laidlaw penalties, countered by a Giovanbattista Venditti try converted by Kristopher Burton, who also scored a drop goal, and a Mirco Bergamasco penalty for the Azzurri. The result extends Scotland’s winless sequence to seven Tests – the worst run since 1998.
Robinson, who is under contract until the 2015 World Cup, insisted he would take time to reflect before determining his future after a review with Scottish Rugby Union chief executive Mark Dodson.
Scotland appeared close to producing a positive result in the losses to England, Wales and France, but the displays against Ireland and Italy were disappointing, leaving Robinson with two wins from 15 Six Nations matches in charge.
Whether Robinson sees enough in the young players at his disposal – among them Richie Gray, Ross Rennie, David Denton, Greig Laidlaw, Stuart Hogg and Lee Jones – to encourage him to stay in his position remains to be seen.
Denton, the 22-year-old rampaging Edinburgh No. 8, has impressed and he hopes Robinson will remain in charge. Said Denton: “We all hope he’ll stay. I think we can build something special under him, with the group we’ve got.
“I think we can be a force to be reckoned with.”
Robinson has already begun a coaching overhaul and the Rome loss was the last match for Graham Steadman and Gregor Townsend, the defence and attack coach, respectively.
Scott Johnson is set to join as senior assistant coach and Matt Taylor as defence coach in appointments which suggest Robinson is committed to the cause despite the damning series of results.
Perhaps it is the naivety of youth, but Denton’s optimism is undimmed despite the winless run. Denton, who now has six caps after starting all five Six Nations games, added: “It’s been a disappointing tournament for us and you could see that in the boys. We’ve put everything in, but we’re going to be judged on results.
“We’ve got a lot of belief in ourselves. This has been the steepest learning curve I’ve ever experienced in my life and I think a lot of the other younger boys would say that.
“There’s no doubt the talent that we have and we know we can take it forward.”
Scotland’s travails can be traced back to the opening match on February 4, a Calcutta Cup loss to England when Robinson’s men dominated but demonstrated familiar failings.
Individual errors contributed to Scotland’s downfall in Cardiff, against France and in Dublin before this disjointed display at the Stadio Olimpico.
Denton believes Scotland could – and should – have won the opening three games and that the championship table could have looked markedly different. “The first three games were tough. We were right in the game in all three. The English game we should’ve won, the French game we should’ve won, the Welsh game – if we had 15 men on the field – we would’ve won.
“It’s really tough. I think it’s just we need to learn what to do in those last minutes of the game when it’s close.”
Mike Blair, the most experienced member of the squad with 81 caps, struggled to find the positives of the loss in the Eternal City but agreed with Denton over the potential for future progress.
The scrum-half said: “It’s hard to reflect on exactly what it was that went wrong.
“It’s just that feeling of disappointment in letting ourselves down first and foremost and letting down the supporters.
“The guys are absolutely gutted and we’ll have to continue to work hard and make that breakthrough.
“We’ve seen positive things. We’ve got building blocks to work with, but this (against Italy) wasn’t good enough. We don’t turn up every week to lose. We turn up with a lot of spirit, a lot of talent and we need to trust that, keep working at it and look for that breakthrough.”
Fly-half Laidlaw cut a dejected figure and believes the failure to start well in the championship contributed to the downward spiral of results. Laidlaw said: “Momentum’s key. We still had a chance to win big games and we didn’t do that. It’s probably the lowest I’ve ever felt coming off a rugby field. We’ve let each other down, the jersey down and everybody back at home.”