It's win or bust for Robinson after too much foolish talk
It will be full to the rafters at
Murrayfield on Sunday and the assembled Scottish patriots will witness
an occasion where the stakes scarcely could be higher.
The English coach of their struggling
national team has backed himself into the tightest of corners. At face
value, there is nowhere left to turn. It’s reached win-or-bust time for
Andy Robinson’s regime north of the border and that fraught scenario is
In the build-up to Scotland’s opening
RBS Six Nations fixture against England, Robinson delivered a blunt
ultimatum to his team and himself. With echoes of Clive Woodward’s
famous ‘judge me on the World Cup’ declaration during the turbulent
period prior to the 1999 tournament, his former assistant said: ‘We have
to beat England and we have to beat Wales in the game afterwards.
Nervous glances: Andy Robinson watches Scotland's defeat to Wales
‘I do not want to be Scotland coach
if we lose most of our games. People have a right to expect better. We
have to start winning now and we cannot hide any more. Maybe I am
putting pressure on the team and myself but that is good. We must win.’
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All well and good, except that it
hasn’t happened. The game against England ended in Scottish defeat at
home, then the following match against Wales ended in Scottish defeat at
the Millennium Stadium. So the two games they had to win, according to
Robinson, his team have lost. Now, in front of their loyal but
increasingly exasperated public, Scotland have to break the cycle
against the pre-championship favourites, in their second and final home
game of this campaign.
The pivotal encounter comes against a
backdrop of turmoil, with defence coach Graham Steadman and attack
coach Gregor Townsend on their way out, and Scott Johnson — having
hurriedly left the Ospreys — due to join the management team at the end
of the season. Now the focus will be on the man in charge, on whose
watch Scotland have lost nine out of 12 Six Nations games.
If Robinson is true to his word, that he does not want to coach Scotland if they lose most of their games, then he needs a win to maintain credibility, but 12 of the last 13 encounters with France have ended in defeat. Without a shock, backs-to-the-wall victory, the visit to Rome on March 17 is looming as yet another wooden spoon decider.
All the while, rumours of Robinson’s imminent return to Bath grow louder. That prospect may soon shift from a possibility to a probability.
Premiership’s No 1 for excitement
Last weekend’s action in the Aviva Premiership provided further proof that it is surely the most competitive league in the world. All six matches were settled by single-figure margins — not great news for the heart-rate of coaches and fans, but certainly not dull.
To date this season, 63 of the 90 games played have been won by nine points or less (or drawn), which shows that the cliche about ‘no easy games’ really does apply. For the record, any carping from the Celtic countries, France or the southern hemisphere is unnecessary — this is not another blind claim that the English league is the best of all, just the hardest-fought; a significant difference.
Old friends at Twickenham
There will be a small-world feel to the two matches taking place at Twickenham on Saturday, with strong links between the England and Wales men’s and women’s teams.
In the home ranks, Manu Tuilagi starts in midfield and a fellow former pupil from John Cleveland College, Hinckley, Vicky Fleetwood, lines up at hooker in the all-conquering England women’s team.
Familiar faces: Vicky Fleetwood and Manu Tuilagi
Fleetwood was in the year above Tuilagi at school and her brother played alongside the mighty Samoan-born centre.
‘I used to watch them — Manu played on the wing for the first team and my brother was a centre,’ she said.
The pair have remained friends since school days and Tuilagi was a spectator last November as Fleetwood and Co beat New Zealand. ‘I was impressed by the physicality and skill of the players,’ he said.
Quotes of the week
'He’s big and square and heavy, and difficult to move – that’s it really!’
England prop Dan Cole deconstructs some of the myths about scrummaging technique with this assessment of Wales tighthead Adam Jones.
‘We are confident that we can shut Wales down and hopefully kill off some of their strike runners.’
The way Ben Foden talks, it sounds like England’s players will be armed, dangerous and taking no prisoners at Twickenham…
The last word
The Irish Rugby Football Union are reportedly considering a bid for the 2023 World Cup. While deliberations are only at an early, theoretical stage, this bubble needs bursting straight away.
There is no way at all that the tournament can be staged in Ireland, unless part of a broader Celtic package. The World Cup has become a colossal event and the infrastructure demands are beyond the scope of most individual Test nations.
That may be perceived as unfair, but it is an inescapable truth. Once England and Japan have hosted the next two tournaments, it should be time to consider Italy or Argentina — who have the size and capability to lay on a fitting spectacle without outside assistance.
Being awarded a World Cup would act as a catalyst for significant rugby development in these countries, something Ireland doesn’t need to the same extent.