Robinson's remarkable turnaround sets new standards for Scotland

Scotland 21 South Africa 17
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The Independent Online

As Andy Robinson took his post-match press conference seat on Saturday, on the backboard behind him was the logo EMC². Quite how Scotland got from a 46-point thrashing against the world's No 1 side to vanquishing the reigning world champions is one for the Einsteinian faction of the rugby union fraternity. Without a shadow of a doubt, though, their head coach should take considerable credit for putting the Kipling equation into practice – by keeping the calmest of heads.

It cannot have been easy for Robinson to stay cool immediately after the 49-3 hammering administered by the All Blacks the previous Saturday. He did so well, though, paying credit to the excellence of the opposition and acknowledging that his side had been taught "a harsh lesson". "We let the nation down today and it's about how we come back from it," he added. "I'm confident in the squad we can do that."

Seven days on, Robinson was reflecting on a hard-earned victory against a Springbok side who were shorn of several front-line players – and hit by a couple of positive drug tests – but who were strong enough to beat Ireland and Wales before arriving here. It was not pretty in the driving Edinburgh rain, but Robinson's men mastered the conditions and the opposition in admirable fashion.

The visitors claimed the game's only try nine minutes from time, the big back-row replacement Willem Alberts barging over from the back of a line-out, but otherwise the Springboks were rendered toothless. Captain and second-row veteran Victor Matfield was reduced to snapping away at Stuart Dickinson – to no effect – as the Australian referee awarded the final three penalty kicks with which Dan Parks hammered the nail into the South African coffin.

Robinson's men might have short-changed themselves, as much as the Murrayfield punters, the week before but on Saturday they were full value for what was a major Caledonian victory – only the second in 41 years against the Springboks.

Scottish wins against the big three of the southern hemisphere come along not much more frequently than sightings of Halley's Comet but there have been two of them in 12 months under the stewardship of Robinson. The former England coach guided the Scots to a 9-8 win against the Wallabies at Murrayfield last November, so despite the All Black battering, his record against Tri-Nations opposition for Scotland reads: played three, won two

Only one other Scotland coach has achieved two victories against the big three: Jim Telfer, against Australia in 1981 and 1982. Not that Robinson was patting himself on the back. "This was a win achieved by the hard work and attitude of the players," he said. "It was a huge team effort and I am delighted by the attitude of the players, led by Rory Lawson, the way they went out and played in tough conditions. They were pretty shell-shocked after last week and they've come back and proven they have the ability to play against the best in the world."

A year ago, few people in Scotland – or Timbuktu, for that matter – would have had Parks pegged as a player of world class but after failing to make the autumn squad a year ago, the 32-year-old outside-half has shown his ability as an international match-winner. On Saturday, he landed six penalties out of six and nailed his 12th drop goal for Scotland, equalling John Rutherford's national record tally.

Contrary to some reports, it was not quite an historic day for Joe Ansbro (the first black player to represent Scotland was actually Alf Clunies-Ross in 1871) but the Northampton centre did well on his international debut. There were also stand-out, coming-of-age performances from the still-fledgling pair of Richie Gray in the second row and Richie Vernon, who made a huge impact off the bench in the back row after Scott MacLeod departed with a rib injury.

"We'll go step by step," Robinson said. "We've got to keep our feet on the ground because we play Samoa next week. That's going to be a tough game, but we're looking forward to it, to going up to Aberdeen."

As for his opposite number, Peter de Villiers, it's down to London to face England at Twickenham. It may well take nothing short of a victory to keep the coach's head from the Springbok chopping block.

Scorers: Scotland: Penalties Parks 6; Drop goal Parks. South Africa: Try Alberts; Penalties Steyn 4.

Scotland: H Southwell (Stade Français); N Walker (Ospreys; C Paterson, Edinburgh, 74), J Ansbro (Northampton), G Morrison (Glasgow), S Lamont (Scarlets); D Parks (Glasgow), R Lawson (Capt, Gloucester); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), R Ford (Edinburgh; D Hall, Glasgow, 68), E Murray (Northampton; M Low, Glasgow, 68), S MacLeod (Edinburgh; R Vernon, Glasgow, 35), R Gray (Glasgow), N Hines (Leinster), J Barclay (Glasgow), K Brown (Saracens; R Rennie, Edinburgh, 79).

South Africa: Z Kirchner (Blue Bulls); G Aplon (Western Province), F Steyn (Racing Metro), J de Villiers (W Province), L Mvovo (Sharks); M Steyn (Blue Bulls; P Lambie, Sharks, 64), F Hougard (Blue Bulls; R Pienaar, Ulster, 47); T Mtawarira (Blue Bulls; CJ van der Linde, Cheetahs, 73), B du Plessis (Sharks; A Strauss, Cheetahs, 74), J du Plessis (Sharks), B Botha (Blue Bulls; F van der Merwe, Blue Bulls, 65), V Matfield (capt, Blue Bulls), D Stegmann (Blue Bulls; W Alberts, Sharks, 47), J Smith (Cheetahs), R Kankowski (Sharks).

Referee S Dickinson (Australia).

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