Andy Robinson must be given more time despite Scots rugby whitewash

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By Daniel Scott

And so it is, Scotland suffer their first whitewash since 2004 in a campaign which promised so much, delivered in spells, then fell to bits in Dublin and Rome.

This has been an entertaining six nations with worthy Welsh winners that oozed with confidence but were made to work hard for their Grand Slam.

In an ultra-professional era this year’s championship pitted players built like WWF wrestlers against each other.  Giants that still showed remarkable skill, organisation, speed and fitness to collide around a park that seems to grow smaller yet more active all the time – the ball stays in play almost twice as long as it did just 20-years ago.

With Glasgow and Edinburgh improving at club level, Scotland showed early promise in a statistically implausible defeat to England during the opening weekend at Murrayfield.  With a familiar lack of cutting edge, Scotland completed 238 passes to England’s 72 and made their opponents absorb 142 tackles to Scotland’s 62.  But lost.

On a wet February day, that familiar sinking feeling deepened when yet another crucial pass was dropped, another decisive break went unsupported or another poor decision was made.  Most notably Park’s charged down kick on his own line giving England the only try of the match.

The defeat wasn’t Parks’ fault but, rightly sick of being the fall guy, he decided to hand in his resignation.

Undeterred by this frustrating loss, captain Ross Ford declared that Scotland would play Wales at their own passing game under the roof in Cardiff. And, they did.

In arguably Scotland’s most adroit performance for years, they passed, mauled and ran at the Welsh in a tight first half few expected only to undo all that good work in a now obligatory lapse of concentration at the start of the second half.

If Andy Robinson is replacing his coaching team he should ensure his new defensive coach is strong on restarts.  Scotland were nothing short of woeful at them this year.  It was a botched restart at the start of the second half in Cardiff that lit the blue touch paper for a collapse that, debatably, cost Scotland a chance at victory in another statistically superior display

The display had an encouraging feel despite the loss.  Freshened by new blood Scotland looked youthful, with a dynamic pack that contained some real Lions potential in Ritchie Gray, Ross Rennie and David Denton and scored their first try in four tests. Stuart Hogg also announced his arrival at international level; the youngest cap since Gregor Townsend and just as promising.

And, when Scotland took the lead early in Edinburgh against World Cup finalists France, it seemed they might have at last backed their strong pack up with an incisive back line.

Hawick lad Hogg, a relation to George Best, was a thorn in the French side scoring one try and skipping past Thierry Dusautoir – one of the most fearsome tacklers the game has ever seen – in a match Scotland threatened to win.

They didn’t and the team that arrived in the life insurance stadium in Dublin were noticeably less focussed, committed and up-for-it than in previous matches.  Poor concentration was again the decisive factor.

Amazingly, Scotland had not lost one of their own line-outs before the Ireland encounter.  With the tallest second row in the tournament and Ford’s accuracy from the touchline, their line-out looked world class. That such a dominant feature of their game should crumble to the extent it did in Dublin then Rome points towards a worrying lack of mental strength in the team.

Prestonpans-born prop, Allan Jacobsen, in the build up to the Italy game hinted that his teammates might too easily accept defeat, that they are too quick to excuse poor performances and mistakes with no Roy Keane-like equivalent to fear.

This lack of accountability could partly explain the Torresian loss of lineout form Scotland in Rome, but poor decision making and a lack of real leaders on the pitch is worrying for Andy Robinson. You can coach skills, but leadership is tougher to instil.

There was no thorn left on the thistle in Rome and no apparent leaders on the pitch. All who watched the match will forever mourn 80 gruelling minutes of their life they will never see again.

In an awful game, grumblings about Robinson’s win-shy reign grew throatier but he is developing the players and team, it is they who must now take ownership of their performance.

Scotland and Italy have formed the bottom third of the six nations for five years now but the impressive spells of play against Wales and France shouldn’t be forgotten.

It’s fanciful, but had Scotland forced the victory they deserved in their England curtain raiser they may not have fluffed their lines so much as the championship progressed.

Winning breeds winning and in top class sport, luck is a myth.  It’s true that the ball has tended to bounce away from blue jerseys and that referees have lined up to pile the hurt on, but when you’re up, you’re up. You’re invariably in charge of your own destiny.

Is Robinson now in charge of his?  His record of results would mean the chop for many other coaches – Scotland haven’t won since they eked out victory in Invercargill against Georgia – but changing the coach means the team must start again from scratch and that seems unmerited.

Robinson has been a bit too eager to ring the changes and the Scots might benefit from a more settled first XV, but, if one can ignore the last 120-minutes of this championship, and it’s a big ask, Scotland have improved.