THE television programme Horizon recently featured an item on the nature of infinity which suggested, oddly enough, that there were several different infinities – each one bigger than the last. They should speak to the army of Scottish rugby fans because only they know the true nature of being made to wait forever.
It wasn’t meant to be like this. Ahead of the England game someone asked if Scotland would win and I suggested that if they couldn’t beat the auld enemy on the opening day, naive, green and untested as they were, they never would. Let’s just hope that that particular “never” is one of the shorter infinities.
In the run-up to the Calcutta Cup Andy Robinson had heaped the pressure upon his own shoulders and that of his players, calling it a “must win” match.
That was understandable in light of a disappointing World Cup but Robinson also needled his fellow countrymen by labelling them “arrogant”, with everyone forgetting that he had specifically mentioned full-back Delon Armitage, who promptly proved him right by getting kicked out of the squad.
An ordinary England side played poorly on the day and still won. They eked out another win in Rome and, with confidence growing, they were clearly the better side in Paris.
The opposite happened to Scotland because that first loss meant that they jettisoned whatever self-belief they had, prompting a philosophical head coach to say: “We are where we are.”
The problems are obvious, the solutions less so. Despite dominating possession against England, the home side displayed all the cutting edge of margarine and failed to score the one try they needed to salvage something from the match. The same could be said for Scotland’s last two losses in the World Cup and yesterday's match in Rome.
The England debacle at Murrayfield persuaded Robinson to pick better attackers in the form of Greig Laidlaw and Stuart Hogg. The Scots duly scored one try in Cardiff and a second, from Hogg, should have been allowed. The strategy seemed to be working but, like a quack’s blood-letting leeches, the cure proved almost as bad as the original disease. The newfound attackers couldn’t defend.
Of the 11 tries Scotland conceded in this tournament only four were earned by the opposition, the other seven came directly from Scottish mistakes.
Leigh Halfpenny scored a brace in Wales, Mike Blair was never going to stop Ireland hooker Rory Best within sniffing distance of the goal-line and Fergus McFadden took advantage of tired legs at the fag end of the Dublin game.
The other seven tries were the direct result of Scottish errors, over generous gifts. From Dan Parks being charged down to Laidlaw, Jones and Hogg all being run over for tries. The final humiliation came when Eoin Reddan squirmed his way past three Scottish defenders (Blair, Sean Lamont and David Denton) to score a try that was almost as soft as the one that he claimed last year at Murrayfield.
Admittedly, after drafting Laidlaw in at stand-off, Scotland did score a few tries themselves but a team that had been damned difficult to beat in the World Cup lost their defensive edge.
Scotland became the soft side that everyone wanted to face because Robbo’s men were handing out tries like sweets on Halloween – three against Wales, two against France, four against Ireland and even one against Italy’s toothless attack.
The coach has made mistakes for sure, Scotland play a little too fast and loose for a team whose strength is all up front, but his blunders were as nothing compared to the howlers on the field by the players. Missed tackles and daft yellow cards cannot be blamed on anyone other than the individual concerned and there were too many of both.
Robinson has always said that he will continue with Scotland so long as he has the backing of the players.
So what do they think? No player in his right mind will call for the coach to go while there is a chance it won’t happen. So we must judge the players on their actions rather than their words and, after full marks for effort (if not execution) against England and again France, the Scots looked like a lost tourists in Dublin reading the map upside down and the body language in Rome was just awful.
The team is performing well below their potential which has to be a worry for Robinson.
Will he stay or will he go now, as the Clash almost said? The coach appears to have a post ready and waiting for him back at Bath and, with the wife and kids still living there, the draw of Premiership Rugby coupled with a normal family life should not be underestimated.
Robinson played rugby at Loughborough University with Bath’s current chief executive Nick Blofeld and club owner Bruce Craig, who have publicly stated that they are interested in hiring their pal, or would be were he not already promised to Scotland up to and including the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
So far so good but the issue is painted in grey rather than black and white.
Robinson is a proud man and, having failed with England, he won't want to walk away having done the same with Scotland because he wouldn't get another crack at international rugby.
Scottish Rugby Union chief executive Mark Dodson has always insisted that he won't sack Robinson and he is, to borrow from Tony Blair, a pretty straight kind of guy.
Moreover the coach doesn’t look like a man who is packing his bags and contemplating a change of scene. In a flurry of activity he has appointed two new assistants to the national squad (Matt Taylor and Scott Johnson) and is busy recruiting qualified Scots from outside the country to bolster the gaping holes in his national squad.
There are a few reasons to suspect that the current cloud enveloping Scottish rugby will, if not disperse completely, at least lift enough to lessen the sense of overriding gloom.
Dutchman Tim Visser becomes eligible for his adopted country on 12 June, Robinson’s original choice of skipper Kelly Brown will be available for next season’s tough autumn schedule, maybe even earlier, and Matt Scott will come through in the midfield.
Provided enough players keep the faith and, after yesterday's woeful show that is debatable, then Robinson should get another season with his new coaching team and a squad bolstered by new arrivals with the young championship debutants a year older, wiser and better.
If next season is as miserable, then one man is ideally placed to take the squad through to the World Cup – Gregor Townsend. Only joking.
Glasgow coach Sean Lineen, who is being moved to an SRU scouting role, would be in pole position to take over the national squad on an interim basis.
The good news for fans is that the same Horizon programme posited the possibility of our universe being just one of an infinite number, which would mean that every possible scenario is played out in a different universe.
The monkeys would duly finish bashing out the complete works of William Shakespeare on their infinite typewriters and Scotland would finally win the Grand Slam, although there are no promises about which would happen first.