Iain Morrison: Seeds of Andy Robinson’s demise planted in debacle of Rome

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WHEN Richard Nixon was quizzed as to why he had chosen the less than charismatic Spiro Agnew as his vice-president, he is said to have replied along the lines of, with that ****er next in line, no-one will ever assassinate me!

Perhaps Andy Robinson was thinking the same thing when he hired Scott Johnson. Whatever the Aussie’s merits, as a head coach he has been little short of disastrous to date. He led Wales on an interim basis to two defeats and a draw against Italy. He also coached the USA Eagles for a stint that was equally brief and forgettable.

Andy Robinson enjoyed a successful Tour in Argentina. Picture: PA

Andy Robinson enjoyed a successful Tour in Argentina. Picture: PA

Robinson’s time as Scotland coach is not so easy to pigeonhole. He will divide the critics. He enjoyed several successes, including a first win over Australia for 27 years in only his second game in charge of his adopted country. The Englishman was in tears in the dressing room afterwards and with good reason. He followed that up with a winning series in Argentina, a first for Scotland south of the equator.

Up until three weeks ago, Robinson boasted an astonishing 75 per cent winning record against the southern hemisphere big three and, even now, after losing to New Zealand and South Africa on consecutive weekends, finished his Scotland stint with a handy 50 per cent record against the big beasts of the international jungle with a flawless played two, won two against the Wallabies and one win against the Springboks to his credit.

On the flipside, Robinson’s team became the first Scotland side to fail to reach the World Cup quarter finals, despite bossing great swathes of their pool matches against England and Argentina at last year’s tournament. His overall 42 per cent winning record with Scotland is highly respectable but where the coach fell far short of expectations was the Six Nations, the shop window of northern hemisphere rugby. He never won more than one match in any one season and his overall record is a miserable two wins from 15 starts for a 13 per cent success rate. Earlier this year, the Scots suffered a whitewash.

Worse than just losing every match last season was the manner in which Scotland went down to Italy. The seeds of Robinson’s downfall were planted in Rome’s Olympic Stadium. There were rumours of player discontent ahead of the game and it turns out that Gregor Townsend, then Robinson’s assistant, gave the entire squad a dressing down ahead of the match.

The regime of tough love backfired. In fact, the Scots were out-thought and outfought in what was what the most miserable performance by the national team in living memory. The Scots squad might not be the most talented rugby

players in the world but, so the thinking went, they could be fit and organised and cussed. Scotland were none of those things that day.

There were the inevitable calls for Robinson’s head and, to his credit, Mark Dodson took the more difficult of the options open to him and ignored them. He was rewarded with a stuffy win against the Wallabies in Newcastle and twin wins over Fiji and Samoa on the summer tour.

Underlying problems were already evident in Apia for those who looked closely. Scotland did not remotely deserve to win that match and only a combination of a dreadful call by a linesman [Tim Visser’s foot was nowhere near the touchline] and a late try by Rob Harley got Robinson out of jail. It is credit to the man that, sitting in Sydney airport 24 hours later, the coach freely admitted that good fortune rather than good play had earned his side their third successive win.

And so to this autumn series. The overwhelming optimism of the Scots each time New Zealand’s bandwagon rolls into town is a mystery to most and so it proved again.

In contrast Scotland are much better equipped to withstand the South African onslaught coming, as it goes straight down the line, like a runaway locomotive.

But a big, muscular Scottish pack simply couldn’t live with the intensity. They were blown away in the first 40 minutes and, while they turned things around in the last half hour, the damage had already been done. And still a win over Tonga, ranked two places below Scotland and playing in the Aberdeen chill, would have seen Robinson carry on to the Six Nations and possibly beyond. That task proved beyond his team, who simply failed to turn up.

There was plenty of effort but all too little thought behind where and how to direct it to greatest effect. There were too few players with belief and too few willing to risk something to make it happen. Stuart Hogg had his best game for a long time and almost broke free on several occasions but too many others seemed constrained by the fear of failure and with good reason. Tim Visser remains a more potent attacking weapon than he is a defensive one.

Robinson did the honourable thing and, rather than hold the SRU hostage, walked away. He’ll be looked after financially but that won’t entail a full salary up to the 2012 Rugby World Cup, which is when his contract ends.

He leaves Scottish rugby in a better place than when he started, that much is certain, but he also leaves a legacy of a hugely expensive coaching team which will cost a mint to dismantle if Murrayfield want to go down that route.

And finally, who exactly is steering the great ship of Scottish Rugby these days? Who is going to pick the next coach? Robinson is gone, high performance manager Graham Lowe follows him out of Murrayfield’s door today and neither Sir Moir Lockhead nor Mark Dodson knows his whatsit from his elbow when it comes to elite rugby.

How does that Chinese proverb go? “May you live in interesting times. . .”