Honours even in clash of the driven coaches
Sunday 14 March 2010
This was not the outcome that either would have accepted. Their relationship, and their nature, seems to demand that something so indecisive should be shunned. But then perhaps Andy Robinson and Martin Johnson felt it in the same way when Graeme Morrison kicked into touch and a kind of doubt fell upon Murrayfield that this would be the ending.
When the game drew to a close, deadlocked, there was neither triumph or anguish. Nothing was lost, but there would have been regrets, surely. To such competitors as Robinson and Johnson, whose instincts are to seek judgment, this would have seemed like an empty outcome.
They passed each other in the corridor outside the media room afterwards. "Johnno," Robinson shouted, extending his hand. "Well done, mate." They shook, and the England manager said, "That was a weird game." In a sense, he was right.
The Calcutta Cup could never be reduced to the confrontation of two individuals, not least two Englishmen whose history is a little strained. Nonetheless, something personal was at stake. It was that sense of righteousness in a job done well against a competitor who represents the gravest challenge.
Robinson and Johnson were opponents first, when they played for Bath and Leicester. But then they worked together at the heart of Sir Clive Woodward's notion of what makes a side eminent and were critical to England's 2003 World Cup success. What followed is known well enough: Johnson's international retirement; Robinson's forlorn spell as Woodward's successor; and Johnson's criticisms in 2006 about Robinson's management.
Disparagement lingers so that even now, when both men are in different places, it still gathers consequence. Not to the game itself – the result was always certain to be more significantly influenced by the players – but to what we knew would be in the hearts of two men whose identities are defined by the business of winning rugby matches.
"Who had their money on a draw?" Robinson asked, dryly, afterwards. "When I played for England [against Scotland, in 1989], it was 12-12, and the first time I've coached [Scotland] it was 15-15. I thought the contest was good."
Robinson remains a patriot but his passion for rugby is something more acute, fervent even, so he has brought a vivid determination to the job of restoring some authority to Scotland. Contrasts existed, however the lines were blurred. England's team, after all, could still tell of Robinson's influence. He appointed Jonny Wilkinson captain and he first saw the international worth of Mathew Tait, even if he selected the centre too early.
Robinson might have felt more reassured by the shape and flow of this game. Scotland were initially brighter in attack, As the sides traded penalties, Robinson and Johnson were inscrutable. They were alone with their anxieties, as the game lay beyond their reach.
During last week's build-up, Robinson had been pointed. He spoke of England using running blockers to gain an illegal advantage – calling for the referee, Marius Jonker, to be vigilant – and he wryly chose to liken it to American Football, the sport which Johnson is so deeply passionate about.
The game was vulnerable to a coach's intuition at half-time. Scotland had been the more impressive side, at least in the sense that there was a willingness to attempt to bring some expansive ambition into play. The creativity of both teams is flawed, but England were the more subdued.
"I'm sure Andy's said they should have won," said Johnson. "It wasn't a great game to watch, it was very fractured, a lot of penalties. That caused us a problem."
England's intrepidness was revived after the interval, while the Scots poured the last of themselves into the play that followed Dan Parks' penalty striking the post, during which they most intently threatened the English line.
In the end, neither side could prevail.
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