ANDY Robinson will remain Scotland’s head coach at least for another year but the decision taken by the Scottish Rugby Board and chief executive Mark Dodson yesterday to back him after a string of defeats has polarised opinion.
The Scotsman caught up with three leading ex-internationalists, Andy Irvine, John Jeffrey and Roy Laidlaw. All three savoured success and endured runs of defeats in a Scotland jersey, and all have held leading roles in the Scottish game, but their views on Robinson differed.
Irvine, the Lions tour manager for the 2013 trip to Australia, said: “I think it’s the right decision by Andy to carry on and by the SRU to back him, and it’s a good thing for the Scottish game right now.
“Sometimes we get a wee bit carried away in Scotland. This wasn’t quite the disaster of a Six Nations that the results and wooden spoon suggest in my opinion. Let us just say Dan Parks didn’t get that kick charged down. I think we’d have beaten England.
“Mistakes were costly in Wales, and most people came away from the France game believing we were making progress. The second half in Dublin was not good and the match against Italy the worst for ages, but, those two games do not change my belief that Andy is a very good coach.
“There are areas he can tighten up quickly, such as kick-offs, which have been abysmal and have cost us several wins on their own, with errors of judgment by players and stupid yellow cards too.
“You need a bit of luck, and fortunate refereeing decisions rather than unfortunate ones, to win with Scotland, and we got that in wins against Australia, South Africa and Argentina, but haven’t got any this season.
“But against teams with far greater strength in depth we have been much closer and in positions to win, which is why I think Andy is right to be given at least another year.”
Laidlaw disagreed, however, and insisted that, having been given the SRU’s backing, Robinson must now look to add Scottish talent to his coaching team and consider a new selection panel.
“It’s amazing the support that he has got,” said the former Scotland scrum-half and captain. “I think anybody else would have been out before now with those results. It worries me that there are not Scottish coaches involved. If he is that good a coach he should be able to bring on Scottish coaches.
“He has worked with Gregor Townsend, but he went straight in from playing almost, and is now gone, so while he’s got Australians coming in I would like to see him bring on some of our home-grown coaches so that the Scottish game really benefits from having him there.
“It’s tough as Scots to win at international level, but that means you have to look for an edge on the opposition. You need to get your game-plan right, the preparation right, player form right and selection right.
“I am not sure about his selection skills, and I would like to see the SRU bring in some real experience to advise him, someone like Jim Telfer perhaps. Jim and Ian McGeechan benefited from having selectors who knew the players very well, and it’s unlikely that they would have made the mistake of choosing Dan Parks at the start of the championship. I know Greig [Laidlaw] is my nephew, and he’s certainly not the complete article at stand-off, but England were there to be beaten and I think Andy got selection wrong. Had we won that game we’d have seen a different championship.
“I’m not sure they have done the right thing by sticking with Andy, because it doesn’t feel like we’ve been moving forward, but the reality is that whoever coaches Scotland will find it difficult while we have just two professional teams and so few pro players. That’s our lot and it won’t get any easier for Andy the rest of the year with the fixtures we have. But the Scottish team have had tremendous support this year and now he’s been given the chance to take the team forward he needs to get it right.”
Jeffrey is a member of the Scottish Rugby Council, and though they had no say in yesterday’s decision, he said: “I’m delighted that Andy is staying on.
“I do feel that there was progress made this season in how Scotland were playing and I’m not just saying that because I’m involved with the SRU these days. Like Andy has said, we were one charge-down away from beating England really – and they were one away, maybe two away, from it being very different for Stuart Lancaster – and we were close against Wales and France. Sport is fickle like that; little margins between success and failure. Little mistakes that cost games.
“Andy has the support of the players and speaking to them they have enjoyed the way they have been trying to play, and, hopefully, now the decision is made we can move on and get behind the coaches and the team again because it’s going to be a tough summer tour and very tough autumn series.
“They have to make progress but I believe Andy is the best coach we could have right now to turn things around.”