Robinson delighted by Grove at debutants ball
Scotland 23 Fiji 10
Monday 16 November 2009
All things considered, it was a good first day at the Caledonian international match office for the English-born figure wearing the Scottish thistle. He made his presence felt at Murrayfield on Saturday, and got off to a winning start.
"There are things we need to work on, but to start on a win is huge," he reflected in the aftermath. But so much for Alex Grove, Scotland's debutant outside centre. It was a pretty good day for Andy Robinson too.
It just so happened that not least of the plusses for Scotland's new head coach on his return to the international arena, three years on from his demise with England, was the favourable impression made by the one new boy in his starting XV, the Solihull-born, Rugby School-educated Grove. And that owed much not just to the wherewithal of the young Worcester Warrior, but to the eye for talent Robinson has brought to his role.
Grove, who qualifies for Scotland because of his Glaswegian grandfather Ron Wylie, a former manager of West Bromwich Albion, only made the first team with Worcester in February, announcing his arrival with a seismic hit on Josh Lewsey MBE. On Saturday, he did something similar, sending a shudder through Josh Matavesi, Fiji's Cornish-born debutant full-back.
There was much more of the same and some fine creative touches too, not least the inside pass to Rory Lamont that almost had Scotland home and hosed within the opening half hour.
"I thought he played really, really well," Robinson said. "The timing of his tackles was superb and he's got a good head on his shoulders. For a guy playing his first Test, Alex has been very relaxed." That, Grove acknowledged, had much to do with the head coach informing him of his selection 12 days in advance – as smart a move as Robinson has made since taking charge of the Scotland A team for the summer Nations Cup campaign in Romania, in which Grove and several other central figures in Saturday's success prospered.
It was a victory forged on solid set-piece domination and sparked by a break by Chris Cusiter – back as first-choice scrum-half and as joint-captain – that set up Johnnie Beattie for a 23rd minute score. It was sealed by a Graeme Morrison try six minutes into the second half, which came courtesy of an unspotted knock-on by Sean Lamont, who arguably shaded Grove in the big-hitter stakes.
There could have been more attacking flair and more second-half cohesion. But, as Robinson felt moved to observe at the post-match press conference: "You've got to pat the guys on the back for the performance because it's beaten quality opposition comfortably. We've got to improve by 15 per cent against Australia next week. But we should have smiles on our faces here, guys, and it looks a little bit doom and gloom." Not as doom and gloomy as it did down Twickenham way, mind.
Scotland: Tries Beattie, Morrison; Conversions Godman 2; Penalties Godman 3. Fiji: Try Goneva; Conversion Little; Penalty Little.
Scotland: R Lamont (Toulon); S Lamont (Scarlets), A Grove (Worcester), G Morrison (Glasgow), S Danielli (Ulster); C Cusiter (Glasgow, capt), P Godman (Edinburgh); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), R Ford (Edinburgh), M Low (Glasgow), N Hines (Leinster), A Kellock (Glasgow), A Strokosch (Gloucester), J Barclay (Glasgow), J Beattie (Glasgow). Replacements: K Traynor (Edinburgh) for Jacobsen, 63; M Blair (Edinburgh) for Cusiter, 63; C Paterson (Edinburgh) for R Lamont, 63; J White (Clermont Auvergne) for Strokosch, 65; D Hall (Glasgow) for Ford, 70; R Vernon (Glasgow) for Beattie, 78; N De Luca (Edinburgh) for Blair, 78.
Fiji: J Matavesi; V Goneva, G Lovobalavu, S Bai (Capt), N Nalga; N Little, M Rauluni; A Yalayalatabua, V Veikoso, D Manu, W Lewaravu, I Rawaqa, J Domolaila, A Qera, A Boko. Replacements: S Bola for Domolailai, 23; G Dewes for Yalayalatabua, h-t; S Ledua for Veikoso, 70; W Vatuvoka for Rauluni, 72; J Ratu for Matavesi, 75; N Roko for Goneva, 76.
Referee: C White (England).
*New Zealand overcame a stern test from Italy on Saturday for a third straight win on their tour in front of a sell-out crowd at San Siro in Milan. Luke McAlister slotted five penalties and Corey Flynn scored the only try of the match as the All Blacks won 20-6 to preserve their unbeaten record against the Italians.
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