DCSIMG

Away wins in Europe the key to respect

'WINNING away from home in Europe' should be printed on a big sign on the walls at Edinburgh and Glasgow's training grounds because, for as long as that particular achievement remains out of reach, the two Scottish teams are destined to remain also-rans in the Heineken Cup.

• Glasgow celebrate during their magnificent 33-26 win over Toulouse at the Ernest Wallon Stadium last season, but such European away successes are rare. Picture: SNS Group

I have watched both teams a lot in the last few seasons and, knowing quite a few of the players, have been delighted to see their improvement and their ability to claim some of the top scalps with some excellent rugby. Glasgow proved winning away is eminently possible when they downed Toulouse in fantastic style last season, but by then their campaign to reach the quarter-finals was all over.

I was at Kingsholm for Glasgow's last Heineken Cup game, with Gloucester, and have a bit of insight into Sean Lineen's men from my friends Thom and Max Evans. Now, there are no excuses for the fact that they did not win that game. None.

They were in control and going well in the first-half. Glasgow killed Gloucester at the breakdown, Kelly Brown was brilliant on the deck and playing the ref, Gloucester lost four lineouts, the Shed was absolutely silent and Dan Parks built things well. But in the second half they started to lose the contact battle a bit, Gloucester's kicking game improved and Glasgow began to chase things, and that's the difference between a good side in Europe and an average one.

It is the ability to keep calm, to recognise that things will not go your way for a full 80 minutes, but when the problems start what the Munsters and Leicesters do well is ride out those 10-15 minutes or more in the eye of a storm with the loss of only a penalty maybe; maybe even a try, but not the two or three tries that take a game away from you.

I love the back five at Glasgow particularly – four to eight. That's perhaps harsh on the front row, but they have some outstanding performers in the second and back rows. They are now a team that is horrible to beat at Firhill, and I expect them to overcome a decent Dragons team this week, but then they need to take that next step on the road and show at Biarritz how good they are, too.

The Edinburgh situation this week is the classic example of the 'winning away' challenge. They are in this tournament; there is absolutely no doubt about that, but it will be Edinburgh's own fault if they are not playing Stade Francais for the pool at Murrayfield in just over a week's time.

Edinburgh beat Ulster at Ravenhill in September, but that was the Magners League. Can they do it again and set up that pool decider? And don't bet against Bath doing them a favour either this weekend because they're picking up now as well.

The other big thing for Scottish rugby, of course, is that good finishes to the pools and places in the Heineken Cup or Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals would provide a real lift to Andy Robinson's first Six Nations as the Scotland boss.

Andy is a tracksuit coach through and through. He is a tremendously talented and co-ordinated character, a flanker who with a bit more pace would have been comfortable playing in the centres. That's what you want from a loose forwards coach: someone with a good idea of what's going on in and behind the scrum.

He also knows how he wants his teams to play, but after eight months in the job his big test is coming now. When he coached England he made us difficult to beat; that was the starting point. He has done the same with Scotland, but it's easier to teach a team to defend that it is to attack.

His downfall with England came with selection, playing Ben Cohen at full-back, I remember; not being sure what to do with Mathew Tait. He tinkered with the team too much and when you tinker with a team low on confidence you are heading for trouble. It becomes a vicious circle, and players who are temperamental at best read things the wrong way.

There is no doubt he has the faith of the Scottish dressing- room after his work with Edinburgh, Scotland A and that massive win against Australia. But here comes his first big selection decision – Dan Parks or Phil Godman? He believes Godman is the future, but when Godman is not playing great and Parks is delivering, is confident, has a club like Cardiff coming for him, which is always a massive boost to a player, Robinson has to think seriously about who he goes with in the first game against France.

I think Parks is a player you can do something with – he knows his own weaknesses and has improved this season, but he brings a stability. There is always a balance to be struck between stability and form. I'm a big fan of stability and while I'd enjoy playing with Godman stick me on an international field where control is so important and I'd prefer to play with Parks.

If it's Parks, a lot of responsibility lands on Graeme Morrison, Alex Grove and/or Max Evans to demand he doesn't then kick the leather off the ball. The Glasgow boys have been going well, and they know how Parks play, but Robinson is looking to build around Grove – his defensive performance against Australia was superb – and the question there is whether he feels the Worcester centre has the bulk to carry the 12 shirt to leave room for Evans at 13, or not, and goes for Morrison at 12 and Grove at 13. Grove and Evans together might be a fraction lightweight so I feel Max might initially be handed a 'supersub' role.

And he has to get it right first-up because Scotland's hopes rest firmly on day one. Can they lose a game at home and produce something later in the Six Nations? I don't think so.

If they beat France they should be aiming for third, because they are capable of beating Italy away and England at home. Winning in Europe over the next fortnight, home and away, would help that.

&#149 Will Greenwood is a Heineken ambassador. Heineken are proud to be celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Heineken Cup, the best club rugby competition in the world. www.heinekenrugby.co.uk

 
 
 

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