DCSIMG

Andy Robinson urges Scots to take control of their own destiny

THE forecast for the skies above Murrayfield today make for miserable reading, but to Andy Robinson and his new Scotland team on the cusp of a new era it matters none.

On the eve of his first match in charge of the Scotland team, the new head coach insisted he did not want to talk of the teams and coaches that had gone before him, but certainly used his first eve-of-match press conference in the hotseat to clinically sweep away styles of previous chiefs. The "bounce of the ball" was a phrase we heard from Frank Hadden, his predecessor in the role, as having contrived to prevent Scotland victories, referees brought stinging public rebukes from Matt Williams and various coaches damned poor weather for hindering their effort or aiding the opposition.

Any player tempted to use one of those reasons/excuses for under-achievement in the coming weeks might not have a future in the team as Robinson was pretty clear in the message he wants to send through his squad, and it will be a familiar refrain for the Edinburgh players in today's 22 – victory this week, next week and the week after is their's alone to grasp and has nothing to do with outside influences.

"I'm not expecting it to be like this," he said, kicking off in jovial mood and glancing at the sunshine around Murrayfield yesterday. "It will rain a bit, but we're well used to playing in those conditions and the pitch is looking really good.

"We are in control of whether we win or lose. Key points of my coaching philosophy is that we're in control – not the bounce of a ball, the weather, the referee – we're in control, and it's about delivery in the game. We have to be able to play in different conditions and deal with that.

"I've never been concerned about what the conditions are going to be.

"For us it's controlling what we can control, being smart in the way we play, accurate in our decision-making, but also in our execution of the plays that we want, and having a really high work-rate. If we get that I firmly believe that we'll win the game."

To some rugby is a complicated sport, and the noise of coaches churning through reams of analysis late into evenings merely compounds that belief. The tactical minds of keen players and coaches revel in dissecting the tightest of defences and most scary of attacks – into the latter of which the Fijians definitely fall – yet, there is much in rugby that is simple and Robinson's plan for today's opening match in the 2009 Bank of Scotland Corporate Autumn series, his opening gambit back on the international stage after parting ways with England three years ago, is essentially a straightforward affair.

It all stems from control, dominating the set-piece, which he will be confident of doing with the weakened front five Fiji are putting out in light of various call-offs – the tourists start with five debutants today and have another five on the bench. It will be about attacking with the ball rather than without, driving into the heart of the Fijian defence, pulling Fijians into the tackle, maul and ruck; turning them with clever kicking from half-backs Chris Cusiter and Phil Godman and running at and around them with a three-quarter line boasting as much physicality as Scotland can muster right now.

His team have been told to harvest Scotland's traditional flair for perpetual motion, playing off tap-penalties and off-loading, but underpinning everything is the word 'control'. Entertaining the crowd of around 22,000 – sadly, the SRU have taken some of the shine off the vibrancy of a new era by retaining the ill-conceived policy of not selling tickets on matchday – is important to the head coach, but in the truest rugby sense. A game of sevens will only have one winner when the Fijians are on the field, and Robinson has stressed that his sole desire is to create a winning Scotland team.

"We want to ask questions of the Fijian defence, but to do that we need speed of ball," Robinson explained. "We can still play with width, with chaos and pace, but the wider you play and the more off-loads the more you've got to be disciplined. The biggest thing for us is to develop a winning mindset and to win the game. I'm entertained by driving mauls going forward, by scrums going forward, by big hits being put in. I get entertained by seeing goal-kicks going through the posts, conversions being hit, as well as big ball-carriers. There is so much to entertain and people get different aspects. I'll be entertained by the way the players play."

Scotland supporters will see a different Scotland team evolve over the next few weeks as Robinson and assistants Gregor Townsend and Graham Steadman bid to uncover a new attacking threat that does not revolve around Dan Parks' kicking for territory and rely on Chris Paterson's penalties for victory.

Godman will have to kick tactically and goals, of course, but this new era is about trying to inject new creativity and finishing against all opposition, notably the southern hemisphere's big guns, not just those around the ten-spot in the world rankings. It is unlikely to evolve in one game or two, and will be left at the start line if the team do not manage to make the right calls this afternoon to beat Fiji and move back above them to ninth in the world.

As Robinson talks of what he expects of Scotland's players, and the "set menu" of variations he has given them to deal with different scenarios, one feels the presence of a coach with deep-rooted, global experience; a kind of rounded international animal that Scotland has not had at its helm since Ian McGeechan and Jim Telfer departed in 2003.

But everything is always rosy in the garden before a ball is kicked. The soundbites and uplifting chat stop and the on-field challenges that matter begin this afternoon, in what will be a bone-crunching battle. The key to whether Scotland launch the 2009 autumn series with victory or not will lie as much with the decisions made when the players don't have the ball as with those executed when they do, but Robinson remembers times when Scotland proved their mettle in that regard too.

He said: "Scotland have had some outstanding victories in the last seven years, from beating South Africa in 2002 – a great result – to the England results at home in 2006 and 2008.

"There have been some real quality performances put out there, so it's within us to achieve that, and it's about driving that every time we play, for the whole 80 minutes. There will be times this weekend when the Fijians are on top of us and dominating us, and we have to absorb that pressure, and trust that we can.

"But the more I've looked at rugby matches, what comes out all the time is that every play is live; every play is a scoring opportunity for both teams. The interceptions you see, kicks getting charged down when a team is defending its own line and then there's a score at the other end... that's why we love the game of rugby."

He added: "We can talk about pretty patterns and philosophies, but ultimately the game of rugby is won by the players on the pitch and how they deliver.

"It's about doing it, and doing it again and doing it again; having the team spirit that they are prepared to work for each other for the full 80 minutes."

He had a final word for the supporters, and again chose not to follow previous routes of appealing to those who had not bought tickets to do so.

"I'd like to thank the 20,000-plus supporters that are coming and supporting the team. It's a great statement from them that they're prepared to come and support Scotland, so thank you to them."

He believes those who have bought tickets will be in at the start of an era where Scotland begin to realise their true potential more often, whatever emanates from the darkening skies above Murrayfield on this autumn day.

Background

Born in Taunton, Somerset in April, 1964, Robinson won eight England caps as a 5ft 9in, 13st 12lb openside flanker, between 1988 and 1995, and toured with the British and Irish Lions to Australia in 1989.

Robinson taught maths, PE and rugby at Writhlington School, King Edward's School, Bath and later Colston's Collegiate School in Bristol, before turning pro at Bath and going on to coach the club to the Heineken Cup title in 1998.

He became England forwards coach under Clive Woodward in 2000, assisted Graham Henry on the Lions tour in 2001, and was considered by his players as the main coaching influence in England's World Cup triumph in 2003. He replaced Woodward as head coach in September 2004 and coached the Lions in 2005, but won just nine Tests in 22 with England and lost all three Tests in New Zealand with the Lions.

In November 2006, the RFU stated that Robinson would remain head coach with the position reviewed after the two Tests against South Africa – he won one and lost the next, and then resigned, frustrated by a lack of support from the RFU.

In the summer of 2007, the SRU appointed Robinson as the new head coach of Edinburgh, taking over from Lynn Howells, and he also took on the role of coaching Scotland A with Glasgow's Sean Lineen. In his first season at Edinburgh, he guided the team to the highest-ever finish by a Scottish side in the Magners League (joint 3rd).

Having stepped in to assist Frank Hadden along with Lineen to a first-ever Test victory in Argentina, he returned to Edinburgh duties and took the club beyond Leinster and the Ospreys on the final day of the 2008-9 season to finish runners-up behind Munster.

Robinson stepped down in June 2009 to take up the role of head coach of Scotland, replacing Hadden, and inspired the Scotland A team to the IRB Nations Cup – the first trophy won by a Scotland team since the Five Nations championship of 1999. Robinson is a vegetarian.

 
 
 

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