Analysis: Andy Robinson's refusal to excuse defeat gives Scotland real spine

IT WAS on 21 November 2009 that Scotland beat Australia at Murrayfield; on 20 November 2010 that they defeated South Africa at the same venue. Tucked neatly into the middle of that period of exactly a year were the two wins over Argentina which, being away from home, were arguably even more impressive.

Given the national team's previous run of results against those Southern Hemisphere sides, these past 12 months will go down as a glorious spell for the Scottish game. Before the summer, Argentina had lost to Scotland only three times in ten outings. Before Saturday, the Springboks had been beaten just four times in 20 meetings, and only once, in 2002, since returning from their apartheid-era isolation.

Australia's record against the Scots - 18 wins to seven defeats - is almost as good as South Africa's. And that overall statistic actually disguises the Wallabies' dominance in recent decades, for of the first eight meetings, Scotland won six. The victory last year was the first against the Wallabies since 1982.

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Four men - Sean Lamont, Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford and John Barclay - were in Andy Robinson's starting line-up for each of the four games, and the fact that the core of the team has remained intact, and been accruing valuable experience, has played an important part in those impressive results. But this is not the traditional tale of a team who gradually get better, steadily become more competitive, and make a measurable improvement game after game, year after year. This is a team whose achievement comes immediately after a decade - 2000-09 - which statistically was Scotland's poorest since records began.

And, with due respect to those such as Barclay who are maturing towards world class, this is not a golden generation of extravagantly gifted individuals who merely need to be told to go out and play. It is hard work which has taken them to where they are today: hard work, and a mind set which refuses to seek excuses when things go wrong. And the man responsible for that mind set is Robinson himself.

By implicitly telling the squad they were not good enough, Matt Williams often had them beaten before they ran out on to the pitch. Frank Hadden, his successor, restored a more cordial environment by giving the team their self-respect back, but he was possibly too indulgent: too willing to look for those excuses; too ready to indulge in the very Scottish habit of feeling hard done by.

Robinson, as he demonstrated forcefully after his team's 49-3 defeat by New Zealand a week before Saturday's triumph against the Springboks, has no truck with such self-pity.He confronts losses unflinchingly, and takes more than his fair share of responsibility when things go wrong.

There are no hiding places under Robinson, and no safety nets either, for the thing about safety nets is they can actually encourage you to fail. What there is instead is an openness and an honesty which encourages a positive spirit of self-criticism.

Vastly experienced at the highest level as both player and coach, Robinson could easily come up with thousands of words of analysis on each match, and pen a volume or two on the state of the national team. But, more often than not, he is a master of brevity, as he showed on Saturday evening when he summarised that state in just two words: "something's brewing."

It certainly is. Although it is too early yet to tell how potent this brew may become, Scotland are undeniably moving in the right direction.

So what of that defeat by the All Blacks? Should we just write it off as the proverbial bad day at the office?

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No, but we should note that in times past it would have taken a Scotland team a lot more than a week to recover from the humiliation they received then. They might have gone as far as giving a good account of themselves against the Springboks, perhaps even running the world champions close - and then, when they lost, consoling themselves with the knowledge that they had restored their honour.

Under Robinson, there is no such settling for half-measures. It's all or nothing. (Indeed, perhaps that attitude even contributed to the scale of the loss to New Zealand, for if Robinson had allowed his team to engage in damage limitation in the second half rather than telling them to keep playing running rugby, the final margin might have been narrower.)

Of course, given Scotland's Autumn Test record is now a win and a loss, the final tally cannot be a case of all or nothing. Nonetheless, in a sense the match against Samoa at Pittodrie has now become the most important of the three.

Win it, and Scotland will have shown they do not need the goad of ignominious defeat to play at their best. Lose, and they will have proven that they remain inconsistent, as well as confirming their tendency to play to their best only when they are the underdogs.

That is probably the next barrier that Robinson must help his squad clear: the infuriating ability of Scottish teams, and not only in rugby, to make life hard for themselves against eminently beatable opposition.

Dan Parks was six out of six with his penalty attempts on Saturday, and the team as a whole merited no less than ten out of ten for a rousing effort.

A win over Samoa will make it two out of three for the Autumn Tests, and provide supporters with a genuine sense of optimism ahead of the Six Nations.