THE circular from the SRU dropped into my e-mail basket at the tail end of last week under the headline: “Robinson picks form players in first squad of season.” Really?
If that headline were true it’s debatable that anyone from Edinburgh Rugby would qualify, with a couple of exceptions in breakaway Stuart McInally and perhaps Nick De Luca for his defensive chores rather than any attacking panache. Too many others are playing so far below their potential that they may well have been hijacked by a spaceship and replaced by alien doppelgangers.
Greig Laidlaw is throwing Hail Mary passes to thin air and Ross Ford seems to be infected with the hooker’s equivalent of golf’s yips. The poor man lost three of his first four throws against Munster and while the Limerick crowd keep a respectful silence for kicks at goal, it was open season for the hooker at Thomond last weekend.
Several of Robinson’s squad are there on merit but in too many cases he is picking on past glories and even admitted as much in the curious case of David Denton who, as one Murrayfield sage admitted last week, “has yet to pull his boots on”. On current form alone the coach conceded that Glasgow breakaway Ryan Wilson was ahead of the Edinburgh man in the pecking order before adding a caveat. “I believe that we will get Denton, in the next couple of weeks, to where he was in the Six Nations [last season] and that’s a key aspect for us,” Robinson said. “I think David has got some special talents and that is what we are looking to come through.”
Well, fingers crossed and in fairness Denton and Matt Scott both put in a decent shift for Edinburgh in the defeat by Scarlets on Friday but Robinson had already settled on his starting XV, or so he claimed last week. Kyle Traynor and Allan Jacobsen are both a little bit lucky, especially since the former was released by Edinburgh in the summer, while the latter has barely worked up a sweat, with just 147 minutes of rugby to his name all season. Jacobsen was injured for Friday’s match but Robinson badly needs him fighting fit to back up Ryan Grant in the autumn Tests which begin on 11 November against New Zealand and continue over the following two weekends against South Africa and Tonga.
In contrast, Greig Tonks got handed the mucky end of the stick. The South African-born full-back caught everything that Munster threw his way and he kicks the ball a mile – two skills that might just come in handy against the All Blacks – but still he was left on the shelf. On current form alone Alex Dunbar or Peter Horne would line up at 12 against the All Blacks while Scott, the hero against Samoa during the summer, tries to shake off his second season syndrome. By the same yardstick Ruaridh Jackson would start against the Kiwis, not because he is playing outstandingly well, just because he is in better nick than Laidlaw. It’s unlikely to happen, if only because Scotland need a goal kicker on the park.
In fact, the form Scotland XV might look something like this: Tonks; S Lamont, De Luca/Murchie, Horne/Dunbar, T Visser; Jackson, Prygos; Grant, Hall, Cross, Gray, Hamilton, Strokosch, Brown, Wilson.
The side that takes to the field in two weeks will be radically different and the truth is that Robinson still doesn’t have the depth of talent, except in the second row, to pick purely on form. The above XV has three or four new caps in the backline alone and you can’t take that risk against the All Blacks where experience of what is coming is critical to riding out the storm. Robinson has no option but to pick what he believes are his best XV and hope that in the six training sessions he has at his disposal before 11 November he can chivvy some classy players into rediscovering their best form.