Andy Robinson is back in Scotland this afternoon, well, that corner of Richmond that is London Scottish to be exact.
The former Scotland coach has a new role as director of rugby at English Championship side Bristol. They are sitting fifth in the league, two above the Exiles and need to beat the London Scots this afternoon to keep alive their hopes of a top-four finish and a place in the playoffs.
Robinson stepped down as national coach after Scotland lost to Tonga in Aberdeen last November, but he has since taken up the challenge at Bristol and is clearly relishing the chance to roll up his sleeves and enjoy hands-on coaching every day of the working week rather than on an occasional basis.
Bristol are something of a sleeping giant, who were one of the powerhouses of English rugby back in the 1970’s and 1980’s and Robinson has been hired to catapult them back to the top of the leagues.
“In my day the Bath/Bristol derby was a huge match, a huge match”, says Robinson. “I only lost to them once as a player or as a coach in my entire career.
“There is real potential here but it will only come to fruition with a lot of hard work, which is something I have been reiterating with the players.”
“The support is there at the top [one of the club’s owners is Steve Lansdown of Hargreaves Lansdown financial services] and the will is there – but a lot has to fall into place to make it happen.
“The play-off system, which is done on a home and away basis, requires you to finish in the top four in the season and then win four play-off matches to ensure promotion – and that’s not easy.
“This is a tough league with Leeds going well under Geech [Ian McGeechan], Bedford and Nottingham now realise what professional rugby requires, London Welsh may get relegated and London Scottish are developing nicely.
“They’ve done well haven’t they?” Robinson asks rhetorically. “I have watched the Scots quite a bit this season and I saw them when they played Moseley recently because my son Ollie played against them. Phil [Godman] has settled down and is running the show, Lewis Calder and Jim Thompson are both playing well.”
After a shaky start to their Championship life last time round, the London Scots have more than justified their place in England’s second division this season with ten wins from 20 outings ahead of the Bristol match.
And it’s been a good week for the Exiles, who celebrated their 135th birthday on Wednesday.The club was awarded their Club Accreditation by the RFU, a kite mark for excellence of work in the community, and they also announced the retention of key players for next season – among them Jim Thompson, who may have mixed emotions when he meets Robinson this afternoon.
It was the English coach who put the full-back on the Scotland bench in Argentina for the Tucuman test in 2010 but then left him there for 80 minutes, arguing afterwards, “you have to earn your cap”. After coming tantalisingly close to a Test appearance Thompson was deemed surplus at Edinburgh and signed for the Exiles to kick start his professional career.
While Robinson will keep a keen eye on Thompson and Godman, the Exiles will be keeping just as close an eye on several of Bristol’s Scottish contingent.
Kyle Traynor and Bruce Douglas are both propping up the scrum, Bristol breakaway Mitch Eadie looked good when turning out for the Scotland U20s last season and Ross Johnson is a very handy Scottish hooker, albeit one with a Welsh accent.
Meanwhile, the Exeter exile and one-time Borders’ pro Bryan Rennie has a long-term injury.
Might Robinson be calling up Scott Johnson and updating the man who replaced him with the form of some of his Scots? “I will if he accepts the [Scotland] job on a full-time basis!” is his response, along with a laugh.
Bristol, however, have an anniversary of their own coming up fast. Next season the club will be 125 years old and what better way to mark that milestone than with a return to the Premiership.
Assuming they fail this season – and Newcastle Falcons look well-placed for promotion – Robinson must be under pressure to get Bristol back to the top on the club’s 125th birthday?
“Yeah, of course, the pressure is there but I wouldn’t have it any other way”, and with that parting shot the coach is off to plot the Exiles’ demise.
London Scottish (v Bristol, at Richmond Athletic Ground, today 3pm): J Thompson, J Love, O Grove, A Reay, M Mantella, P Godman, J Stevenson, M Irish, A Kwasnicki, E Fry, P Spivey, T Hotson, C Pennycook, L Calder, M Bright (c). Subs: N Mayhew, H Allen, C Quigley, J Thomas Brown, T Spinks, R Bolt, S Whatling.