Six Nations: Andy Robinson wants Scots to deal with Irish ‘choke tackle’

THERE are elements of Scotland’s performances in the RBS Six Nations Championship that have pleased Andy Robinson, but the frustrated coach is not shirking from the belief that no-one is costing Scotland victories but the team itself.

In showing faith with the players who played most of the last game against France, he underlined the areas yesterday in which he is demanding the players make quick im-provements in order to end the dispiriting five-match losing run.

He pinpointed defence, and in particular his side’s frustrating ability to hand opponents tries without requiring dazzling rugby, and insisted that Scotland’s technical skills in dealing with Ireland’s “choke tackle” – where strong Irish defenders have become adept at holding attackers up, preventing a ruck, and stealing ball – would be a decisive factor in the bid for what would be a second successive triumph in the Irish capital.

“The challenge for us is to start the way we did and be able to play for 80 minutes,” the coach said. “If I go through the tries that we’ve conceded in this championship they have been soft scores, so we need to have a bit of edge about our defence and stop the opposition from scoring.

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“I have seen that in the way that we have defended, so it’s not that we can’t do it, but in the times that we have dropped off that consistency we’ve been punished and that’s what Test rugby is about.

“This weekend the breakdown is going to be huge and we’ve got to be able to deal with their ‘choke tackle’, and the referee [New Zealander Chris Pollock] is going to have to be able to deal with it as well.

“What I’d like him to do is be clear when he calls a maul and we have to be able to get speed of ball from it, which is for us to sort out, but the referee has to be clear when it is maul, which occurs when two people from either side are involved with it.

“The key for us is getting speed of ball and if we get that we’ll be able to ask questions of this Irish defence, and if we don’t we’ll be put under huge pressure.”

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He was quick to state that the fact the team has conceded six tries and an average of 21 points per game in this championship was not the reason behind his decision to release Graham Steadman, the defence coach, and sign up Matt Taylor, the man behind the impressive Queensland Reds defence. Instead he said, it was similar to the team’s failure to score tries in previous matches – individual errors under pressure.

“Just look at the scores. The England game was a charge-down, and in the Welsh game we conceded a lineout on our line, defended for our lives but dropped off a tackle, and then lost two players to the sin-bin. When we defended with 15 v 15 we matched them.

“Last week we dropped off a tackle and the urgency in defence close to our line – which we’d shown very well in the first half – wasn’t there, and the last try came from a turnover and a couple of players who were incensed with the referee, and were discussing it with the referee rather than getting into their position.

“After that we defended very well. We have to be absolutely at our best for the whole 80 minutes – we can’t drop off.”

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There is little doubt that Robinson’s squad is uncovering a new threat in its attack with Scotland making the most passes in the tournament so far, the most line-breaks and most off-loads.

That approach will be vital in Dublin as they try to run the legs from an Irish team coming off an intensely physical contest with France just six days earlier.

That relies on securing good ball and then good skills in retaining possession, which will be a significant test against an Ireland team whose whole game revolves around an adept ability to in strangle teams at the breakdown.

The Irish scrum and lineout – particularly with Paul O’Connell ruled out – are among the weakest in the championship, which is a clear target for Ross Ford’s pack and Robinson also has possibly the most experienced bench ever to call upon. The seven players boast a combined total of 224 caps.

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Geoff Cross’ fine displays have earned him the No 3 jersey this week, but Newcastle prop Euan Murray will be primed for the last half-hour, intent on gripping Ireland in the style of the French at Murrayfield.

The livewire attacker that is Max Evans and fellow former Glasgow team-mates Chris Cusiter and Ruaridh Jackson, and the rest, have the ability and nous to lift the attack for the final stages.

Crucially, also, these are internationalists not used to sitting on the bench and Robinson likes that hunger.

“That’s important,” said Robinson. “You saw what it meant to Nick De Luca last week not being selected and how he responded, and you saw what happened to Graeme Morrison.

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“I want that level of performance every time we go out and play. Sometimes it’s that rage. Sometimes it’s to prove a point.

“Every team we play is going to be very physical and this championship has highlighted more than anything that if you drop off at any point you’ll be punished, and we’ve been punished. You can’t hide away from it. That’s Test rugby.

“You look at the French game and there is so much good that you’re seeing, and going ‘great’, but the loss brings the overriding emotion and any loss is very tough to take.

“The one thing I’ll say about the players that is brilliant is each week they have been right up for the game. You look at the way we’ve started in all three games. I’ve been delighted. And that’s what we’re looking for again on Saturday.

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“But until we get it right for the whole 80 minutes we’re not going to win games.”