Brutal Bath legacy gives Robinson perfect platform

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The Independent Online

He's tough, rugged and committed as hell. He's got the weight and power, and he's certainly not afraid to use it. And that's just Andy Robinson's 13-year-old son, Oliver. Never mind what his Dad might do as the new supremo of England rugby.

He's tough, rugged and committed as hell. He's got the weight and power, and he's certainly not afraid to use it. And that's just Andy Robinson's 13-year-old son, Oliver. Never mind what his Dad might do as the new supremo of England rugby.

Robinson takes over from Sir Clive Woodward as England coach this weekend, on a temporary basis at least. The "temporary" tag won't bother him one jot. Anyone who has coached Bath in professional times, with its ultra-demanding owner and supporters, has learned the hard way to cope with expectation. The taste for public hanging is never far away. Robinson once survived a run of six successive defeats while coach of the West Country club.

One of the key reasons that Robinson survived that torrid time, and a good few others at a club that does not so much demand success as expect it, was that rugby and the qualities it tends to install in its participants - to be forthright, honest, mentally strong and physically tough - run through his family like the blue vein through a good Stilton. Robinson's father captained Somerset and the Royal Navy, and coached the former. One of his brothers played for Saracens, another for Taunton. Now the latest generation of Robinsons is strutting its stuff on the playing fields of the Rec, for the Bath under-14s.

All of which confirms that this is a family rich in character, not easily swayed by the mob. When bad times come, the Robinson family stick together, which may be just as well, unless the new England coach can quickly correct his side's post-World Cup stumblings.

What can also be said with certainty is that Robinson is a world away from Clive Woodward as far as the media is concerned. Where Woodward used paragraphs to make his point, Robinson chooses a single word. Two, if he's really pushed.

Robinson, who was 40 last April and was a schoolmaster in his amateur days, won just eight England caps as a player, compared with Woodward's 21. But in those days England's selectors tended to treat any rugby player west of Berkshire with a suspicious glare.

It is hardly surprising, then, that future England rugby occasions presided over by Robinson are unlikely to win awards for services to diplomacy. When once asked for his principal suggestion to improve the game, he answered succinctly: "Retire all committee men at the age of 40." A joke? Hardly. Robinson doesn't do jokes.

Victor Ubogu played with Robinson for years at Bath (and once for England). Was Robinson ever a guy who accepted excuses from his team-mates? Ubogu laughs one of the laughs that have the Roman columns in the Bath Pump Room shaking alarmingly. "Er, no, he doesn't accept excuses at all. What you can say is that he will be 100 per cent committed. I played with him for eight to nine years at Bath and he laid his body on the line every week. He will expect everyone to do the same for him."

Robinson did that to formidable effect in 1989 against a French side which had a tasty reputation for inelegant footwork on the human torso. Robinson ended the match in shreds but England had their victory, and it owed so much to their tough, nuggety Bath flanker. At the end of that season, Robinson got his reward from the blazers - he wasn't chosen for his country again for six years.

So the press conferences will be shorter, and less entertaining. But he will do everything in his considerable physical power not only to make England successful once again but to prove that he's big enough to handle the job himself.

Ubogu insists that Robinson has made rapid strides in that respect. "His man-management and people skills have increased tremendously in recent times. He is a more down-to-earth individual than Clive."

It's a huge job, of course, but one he is now ready for. Popular opinion in the Bath pubs last night was that if Robinson could handle the job at the Rec, then the England role ought to be a breeze.

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