Déjà vu for Robinson as Scots try to avoid spoon
With a third successive last-match battle to dodge a whitewash, the coach's future is at risk again, but even victory may not be enough
Saturday 17 March 2012
Andy Robinson has been this way before. Back in 2006 he was on a six-match losing streak as England head coach going into what was seen as a "must win" November contest with Argentina at Twickenham. His fate was sealed when Toby Flood came off the bench for his debut and promptly delivered an interception pass for Federico Todeschini to gallop 60m and touch down what proved to be the clinching score. A win and another loss later, at the end of the autumn series, Robinson was gone.
Three years into his international return with Scotland, the future of the former England flanker is again in doubt following a run of six defeats. Robinson is under contract until the 2015 World Cup and retains the support of the Scottish Rugby Union but the question remains: would he wish to continue should a third successive Six Nations campaign of frustration and disappointment conclude with a whitewash after today's wooden-spoon decider against Italy in Rome?
There was talk even before the championship began that Robinson might walk away if there was no improvement on 2010 and 2011, when Scotland were winless going into the final day before salvaging victories away to Ireland and at home to Italy. A return to Bath has been mooted – his family home remains in the city – but then backroom changes have already been arranged for beyond the Six Nations, with Scott Johnson and Matt Taylor due to replace Gregor Townsend and Graham Steadman as Robinson's lieutenants, and Sean Lineen set to move into a new role searching for Scottish-qualified talent around the globe.
Lack of high-calibre playing resources was always going to be the bottom line for Robinson, as it has been for every Scotland head coach. Scotland have always had little room for error in attempting to maximise what talent they do have and they have erred big time in the current Six Nations campaign – consistently so when it has come to the basics of defending re-starts, the self-inflicted wound that cost them so dearly in their crucial World Cup pool match against Argentina last October.
All of which, after a desperate second-half showing in the 32-14 defeat against Ireland in Dublin a week ago, has put the pressure on Robinson and his players going into today's lunchtime tussle – and left that big question mark hanging over the head coach. Not that Robinson is prepared to look beyond the 80 minutes in the Stadio Olimpico – in public at any rate. "I'm just focusing on this next game," he said, stressing that he was under contract until 2105.
"It has been a huge disappointment," he conceded, reflecting on a campaign that has left him with a record of just two wins in 14 matches from three Six Nations seasons. "It is not what I am here for. But I have got to get on with it and prepare a side to take on Italy. Yes, there are challenges, but the passion and desire the players show is what fuels me."
The Scotland team will also be fuelled by the words of Floyd Woodrow, an SAS man turned Mr Motivator, whose services Robinson enlisted ahead of today's contest against an Italian side who were yesterday forced into a change at hooker, the soon-to-be-retiring Fabio Ongaro replacing the injured Leonardo Ghiraldini.
"There is pressure but the players need to cope with it," Robinson said. "There are going to be tough Italians running at them. It is not going to be nice. We need to knock the white shirts over time and time again and show the mentality that we are not going to break."
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