Belief in ourselves is key to success, says Andy Robinson

SCOTLAND have a squad to face New Zealand as big, strong and quick as any that has taken to the field in recent years and, with the team now picked, instilling self-belief is the next priority for head coach Andy Robinson ahead of the autumn series.

Jim Telfer, the Scotland coach of the 1980s and 1990s, used to talk about the "top three inches", in reference to brain-power, and that is a big part of the challenge facing Scotland when they take on New Zealand on Saturday.

Robinson is building on a rare Scotland achievement of three Test wins in a row, all away from home, against Ireland and Argentina (twice). It lifted the team to seventh in the world and is worthy of recognition, but this weekend opponents six places higher hove into view. The All Blacks are the only team the Scots have never beaten.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

There are five changes to the side that started and won the second Test against Argentina in Mar del Plata, three of them enforced by injury, but they should not necessarily weaken the side. As expected, Rory Lamont makes his return to the Test arena after a serious injury suffered in Cardiff in February, replacing Simon Danielli, Richie Gray steps into the shoes of his Glasgow skipper Alastair Kellock and Richie Vernon takes over from another Glasgow teammate, Johnnie Beattie, at No8.

Mike Blair wins his 65th cap as captain, in his first start under Robinson, though the coach revealed yesterday that the decision to replace Rory Lawson was made on the strength of Blair's form for Edinburgh and not due to Lawson's hand injury which kept him out of training on Monday.

The fifth change was also expected. Euan Murray takes over from Moray Low, who has dropped down the international pecking order and now has some work ahead of him to be part of next year's World Cup squad.

Robinson is demanding a strong set-piece to lay foundations for what is certain to be a ferocious opening quarter to this 28th meeting of the two nations.

"The important thing for us is how we get a foothold in the game and that is going to depend on the first 15 minutes," said the head coach, "and that's what we've been working hard on. Training has been pretty challenging, pretty physical at times, but it's important that we're accurate on what we do in the first 15 minutes. You look at the three sides from the northern hemisphere last weekend (England, Wales and Ireland], and the first 15-20 minutes were sloppy. That's something we've got to make sure we get right, and its one of our key areas to focus on."He has a healthy respect for the way New Zealand have played this year, but there is encouragement to be drawn from the way England caused them problems at Twickenham before succumbing.

"I think if you take the game to New Zealand you can put them under pressure," he said. "England were not running intricate moves. The key element for them was to keep ball and getting a go-forward (momentum]. But having said that New Zealand conceded just one try and that's the mark of an outstanding team - when you are under that pressure, no matter how close, you can actually keep a team out.

"One of the key sayings for me as a coach is that we are in control of our own performance. We've got to focus on ourselves. The belief is there in the way that we train against each other, and the physicality that we put into our training, and the fact that players are improving. We've been working hard on skill improvements, and as a collective we take that belief onto the pitch. If you don't believe in yourself then how do you expect someone to believe in you?"

It is the question at the heart of his desire for players to improve. The word 'improve' is even sewn onto their squad tops to provide a constant reminder of the focus he demands. Robinson knows he faces an incredible challenge to mould a game-plan capable of securing a fourth straight Test win.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The selection Robinson swithered over until the weekend was at lock, but not whether or not to pick Gray. His place was secure. The dilemma was which of the experienced Jim Hamilton or Nathan Hines he would choose to pair him with. Hamilton earned the nod because of his lineout prowess, an area where Scotland could cause New Zealand problems and secure an attacking platform for themselves.

On Gray, the coach said: "He's been the outstanding performer for Glasgow. He's played 80 minutes in every game. His ability to carry the ball, his urgency in defence and techniques for a big man is very good.

I've been delighted with his consistency and with Al Kellock not playing for Glasgow he really has performed outstandingly well, and we want him to bring that to the game on Saturday."

In opting for a powerful back three, he has left Chris Paterson out of the 22 altogether, and will rely on Dan Parks and stand-off replacement, and another debutant, Ruaridh Jackson for goal-kicking. He has restored Ross Rennie, the Edinburgh flanker, to the squad for the first time since he was injured on his Test debut in Ireland in 2008. If Rennie comes off the bench, John Barclay could switch to blindside flanker.

Robinson dismissed concerns about the match fitness of tighthead prop Murray, who has started only one Premiership match for Northampton this season, and similarly insisted that Parks was the kind of Test-match animal that could switch on this weekend despite having been out of the game nursing a foot injury for a month.

Those are risky calls with fitness being a major test against the All Blacks, but both are bold. What Robinson needs from his players is the belief that they can create something historic.x