ONE of the most mortifying afternoons in the history of Scottish rugby sparked one of the angriest responses. Andy Robinson apologised to the supporters and promised there would be consequences in the wake of a performance that was so utterly hapless that it took the breath away.
In recent years there have been many miserable days for Scotland on the Test stage but not many rivalled this one for sheer cringe-making embarrassment.
Robinson didn’t explain precisely what he meant by “consequences” but it’s fair to say that the coach is considering his position now. “It was totally unacceptable performance we witnessed,” he said.
“It was hugely frustrating to watch and it makes you angry. I’m very angry about it. I want to apologise to the supporters who saw that. There will be consequences because of it. I won’t go through them yet, but it was totally unacceptable. We’re going to look at everything.”
Asked what the awfulness of his team’s display says about him as a coach, Robinson replied: “It reflects on me, yes.” Robinson said that he would soon be meeting Mark Dodson, chief executive of the SRU, to talk about things. Indeed, Robinson was seen talking to Dodson at trackside after the game. Asked if he was thinking about his own position as coach, he said: “I’ve got a contract until 2015 but after that performance, rightly so, there needs to be consequences and I’ll be at the forefront of those discussions.”
The day was a shocker, an inept standard elevated only by clinical moments when Tonga scored their tries. Even the Tongan coach, Mana ’Otai, was realistic amid the joy of victory. ’Otai said he was proud but that his team’s performance could have been much better. And he was right.
It wasn’t just that it was a tiresome gruntathon possessing little that bore even the vaguest semblance of attacking nous, but that it was a gruntathon where the error count was stratospherically high. Tonga, at least, took something from the game, a first-ever win against Scotland and they achieved it with barely a handful of the team that started in their great victory over the French at the last World Cup. For Scotland, it was a thundering shambles. The way they played – the bone-headed tactics and the lamentable lack of accuracy – was the greatest indictment of Robinson’s coaching in his three-and-a-half years with Scotland. It was truly wretched.
Scotland are now a third-rate nation, in the context of the World Cup seeding at any rate. And here we saw why. To be precise, we saw the hopeless shortcomings of Robinson’s philosophy in minute after minute of toil when Scotland were camped inside the Tonga 22 in the first half. Scrum followed scrum, lineout followed lineout, pedestrian rumble followed pedestrian rumble and mistake followed mistake.
God knows how long Scotland spent banging away at the Tongan line. Ten minutes, perhaps, but it felt like an eternity. When Scotland eventually got turned over it almost came as a blessed relief that they were at last taken out of their misery, that this pitiful exhibition of how limited they were had come to an end. Only it hadn’t. Back Scotland came with more possession, more territory and more torture. A lineout in the Tongan 22 was lost, then, stupidly, they allowed themselves to get turned over on their next visit, then they dropped the ball at a lineout, then they threw crooked at another lineout.
Time and again in that first half Scotland won kickable penalties, but spurned the points and went for touch instead, whereupon this fruitless head-banging session would unfold anew. This was the Robinson gameplan and it was a dismal failure. But, equally, the slavish devotion to it by the players when it was obvious the Tongans were dealing with it handily was just as bad. And so like lemmings, Scotland marched to the cliff edge. “We made the right decisions,” said Robinson later, somewhat bizarrely. “It was about putting them under pressure and then executing, but we had to score [in that period]. We could have had a penalty try. We were putting them under pressure and they had a man in the sin bin.” His explanation petered out. It was a day when everything just faded away.
The visitors took the lead by showing their hosts how to construct an effective forward drive when you’ve got the opposition at your mercy. Scotland had flunked their many chances. Tonga had one and scored, Viliami Ma’afu, cast aside by Glasgow, blasting through Greig Laidlaw to create the momentum from which Tukulua Lokotui smashed over.
Tonga lost their lead, then regained it on the back of yet more catastrophes from Scotland, a feebly missed tackle from Tim Visser allowing Fetu’u Vainikolo to run from inside his own half to score. Even as the Tongan numbers became depleted, losing two to the bin in the closing minutes after also losing a man earlier in the match, Scotland remained devoid of thrust and brains and, later, Robinson was lost in trying to explain it all. We await the consequences he referred to. The first one should be Robinson’s resignation.