SCOTLAND coach Andy Robinson was happy to follow a demoralising wooden spoon Six Nations with a first Scottish tour clean sweep in Australasia and earlier this week sat up through the night to witness Andy Murray’s historic US Open win.
And so now the former England and British and Irish Lions flanker and coach believes that he has a sense of what it must be like to be a Scotland rugby supporter.
“It is about roller-coaster rides isn’t it?” he asked rhetorically.
Robinson was in buoyant mood at Pittodrie yesterday, the home of Aberdeen FC and what has become a second home for the Scotland rugby team in recent autumns. Scotland will return to the north-east, thanks in large part to the efforts of the city and Aberdeenshire councils in working with the SRU to grow rugby, and after wins over Canada and Samoa will this time take on Tonga. The SRU have joined the party by offering a new deal for young supporters whereby a group of eight can buy tickets for any of the autumn Tests for just £5 each with two adults going free – £40 for all ten – if booked through a local club of any sort.
It is a good time for Robinson as he has no immediate games to worry about, just headaches over which players may or may not be fit when it comes to picking a squad for Tests against New Zealand, South Africa (both at Murrayfield) and the Tongans in November. He insisted that the return of one win in four games from Edinburgh and Glasgow so far this season was not a worry, pointing to how Wasps famously started seasons poorly in recent times before building through the season to reach the English play-offs and claim the title.
But he was happy to reflect momentarily on the feelgood factor that enveloped the Scotland players at the end of last season, what turned Scotland from Six Nations under-achievers into tour winners and how he hopes that that can pave the way for historic wins in two months’ time. “The key successes in the summer started with the improvements in the way we defended against Australia,” he said, recalling the 9-6 win which was Scotland’s first in Australia since 1982.
“To hold them out in the manner we did and the collective understanding of how to win a game were successes.
“Then, in the Fiji game we saw the attacking threat that we had. We attacked much better in that first half and then to the Samoa game where we understood again in that last ten minutes how to win a game, because the effort of our defence and attack was to keep pressure on Samoa, who didn’t leave their 22 in that last ten minutes. That’s why we were able to score at the end and break that defence.
“So, there were pleasing aspects, but now it is about putting all of that together – the defence, attack and being able to put the opposition under pressure for 80 minutes – and that’s where I hope to see the team grow in the autumn Test matches.
“But, if you’re involved in Scottish rugby, and Scottish sport, you’ve got to be able to enjoy the roller-coaster ride that you’re going to be on during the game. We’ve had a lot of roller-coaster rides and the great thing on the tour was that we came through it.”
The first match up is undeniably the most difficult, facing New Zealand at a time when they again seem peerless.
“I love watching New Zealand play,” admitted Robinson, “because they’re right on the edge throughout the game, pressurising the opposition and referee, and that’s what international sport is about – putting the opposition under as much pressure as possible, because you get points from that. They are great at being able to accumulate points.
“But what was enjoyable [in the Rugby Championship] was seeing the way that Argentina stood up to them for 50 minutes, and credit to the Argentinians. We have had quite a history against the Argentinians in the last three or four years and know how they can perform, and so seeing how they perform in New Zealand helps us think about our tactics and how we need to play against them.
“For us it’s a great challenge to have, not just to play New Zealand, but to play South Africa and Tonga; teams that we know will be really physical, that you have to stand up to.
“We got it badly wrong the last time we played New Zealand but we recovered the following week and the battering that we got helped us perform well against South Africa. But we’re going to have to look tactically at how we play against New Zealand and generate belief in our players from what they achieved in the summer.”
Another key facet of the autumn Test series is just where Scotland will lie in the world rankings at its conclusion. Scotland are currently ranked ninth with Argentina a place above and Ireland in seventh. The 2015 World Cup draw will be made in December based on the rankings then, and if still ninth the Scots will face a team from the top four and another from the next four in their pool. If they squeeze back into eighth, they avoid a team ranked 5-8 and instead have two sides ranked below.
“We want to aspire to the top eight and the only way we will achieve that is by winning games,” said Robinson.
“For us to get there we need to win at least two of the three games that we’re playing. It could be taken out of our hands if Argentina knock off one of these teams, and if Ireland do then we might not get a chance, but we can only focus on ourselves performing in the autumn and look tactically at how we’re going to play New Zealand and South Africa, and beat them.”
He will continue to call for consistency from his charges in the bid to reach that zenith, but after waving his Saltire during the US Open Robinson has come to accept that he will probably be put through the wringer, along with all Scotland supporters, on the road there.