Gregor Townsend, one of the finest of all Scottish midfield backs and currently assistant coach to the national team, used an unusually strong word in the aftermath of the painful defeat by Argentina four days ago. "We are grieving," he said. If his immediate boss, the head coach Andy Robinson, is in mourning about the way events unfolded in rain-lashed, windswept Wellington, there was no obvious sign of it as he arrived here for this weekend's win-or-bust meeting with England. Instead, he was wearing one of his wolfish expressions – the kind of look he wore during his playing days ahead of a really serious game of rugby in which defeat was unimaginable.
Robinson has always loved these moments. "They're the days you live for," he said. "Being involved in that match against the Pumas ... that was a wonderful experience. We knew how important it was, and it was a great contest. Yes we lost, and we lost in a way I really didn't expect, which made it harder. I could see us losing 15-12 on penalties, but I couldn't see us conceding a try – especially not a try like the one they scored. It was a real shock to the system. But we're past that now."
England fear Robinson, and they are right to do so. A West Countryman to his core, he understands all there is to understand about red-rose rugby. He is regarded by his peers, quite rightly, as a brilliant forwards coach, a strategist who knows his scrums and line-outs backwards and is even more learned when it comes to the tackle area.
The Scots flew into town yesterday after a 24-hour spell of wound-licking down in the capital. Against the South Americans, they had been within a few minutes of qualifying for the knock-out stage when Lucas Amorosino caught them with a sucker-punch tiptoe down the right touchline.
If Scotland lose to England, they will probably, but not certainly, find themselves on a flight back to Edinburgh early next week. (Argentina could help them avoid this fate by messing up against Georgia on Sunday – unlikely, but not impossible). If they beat England by seven points or fewer, their future will still be in the hands of the Pumas. If they score four tries or more in winning the game, they will definitely make it into the last eight. In that eventuality, England will be the ones left waiting on the South Americans.
Robinson wants to keep this as simple as possible. "First things first, we need to win the game," he said. "England are a good side, a quality side. They have an excellent blend: they have a forward pack capable of winning ball, they defend well, they're organised. We know their players. We're playing a team with a forward unit as tough as Argentina's, with the added threat of a highly-skilled back line."Reuse content