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Representative Rugby

What next for Scotland?

So in 2012 Scotland lost all five of their Six Nations games, all three of their Autmun Internationals including a defeat to Tonga and sacked their Head Coach Andy Robinson.

All of which makes pretty miserable reading for Scottish rugby fans. On the other hand though Edinburgh made it to the semi finals of the Heineken Cup and Scotland won three out of three in their summer tour including a victory over Australia.

So where on earth does that leave them?

It is a question that was asked almost throughout Andy Robinson’s tenure, where Scotland continually fell short in the Six Nations yet on Summer Tours and in Autumn Internationals they generally impressed, racking up victories over South Africa and Australia (twice) in his time in charge.

Ahead of almost every campaign there was an air of optimism, a feeling that they had been gradually improving, and yet with every rising hope came crushing disappointment as they failed to live up to the expectations.

In the end Robinson had to go, defeat to Tonga was not the reason, it was simply the last straw. You have to feel for him though, he is without doubt one of the finest coaches around, and his impact could be seen on the Scotland side, they made more line breaks than anyone else in the Six Nations.

There is not a lot a coach can do though when following those line breaks the players drop the ball or make the wrong decision, a coach can only do so much. Ultimately though, as in all sport, change is needed and as you can’t change the players you are left with just the one man left to go.

Where Robinson perhaps struggled was in selection, an area he was also criticised over as England coach. An insistence on trying to bludgeon his way through opposition through playing the likes of Sean Lamont at 12 seemed odd when what the side was obviously searching for was creativity and rugby intelligence.

In fairness to him though, there was never really a top class 10, 12 or 13 available too him, and as that was and is so clearly where Scotland’s failings are, you can forgive a bit of experimentation.

So to the question, where does this leave Scottish rugby? Well, in simple terms it leaves them needed a new coach. Scott Johnson looks likely to fill the post on an interim basis over the Six Nations, beyond that it is anyone’s guess really.

Gregor Townsend has ruled himself out wisely, choosing to gain more experience first, Sean Lineen seems to be a possible option, while there are inevitable calls for the likes of Jake White and Nick Mallett but this would expose the SRU in the long run as they would struggle to be able to afford those two.

More important than the coach though are the players. The search for top class options at 10, 12 and 13 must be the absolute priority for the whole of Scottish rugby. Greig Laidlaw has done a sterling job at stand off, eking out every last drop of heart and talent that he has but he is a scrum half filling a gap, not a genuine 10.

It is not all dark though for Scottish rugby, some of the standout victories of Robinson’s tenure should give the players some real confidence. OK their major victories of Southern Hemisphere opposition came under torrential conditions, but both sides had to play them.

All those conditions do is largely take the backs out of the equation and make it a forward battle, as such, Scotland can take huge heart from the fact that they have a pack that can compete with the very best. In Richie Gray they have a lions shoo-in, Euan Murray is up there with the best scrummagers around and in Denton, Rennie, Brown, Strokosch and Barclay they have a strong and deep back row.

The wealth of options at nine is still there in Blair, Cusiter and Lawson, the only concern was their age but the performances of young Henry Pyrgos over the autumn have nullified that particular concern.

Out wide Scotland have plenty of talent, in plenty of different forms, be it through size and power from Sean Lamont, raw speed in Lee Jones, trickery and creativity from Max Evans or the sheer top class finishing and predatory instinct of Tim Visser, another who must be planning to keep June free.

At full back too they have options, with Rory Lamont injury prone but talented, while Stuart Hogg has shown that even at his tender age he has the ability to ignite this Scottish backline.

There are those who say that Scottish rugby needs to keep players in the country instead of leaving for France and England. I say no, if Scottish rugby is to find talent and develop it, it needs as many people as possible playing professional rugby.

What is the use of having all Scottish players based in Scotland when there are just two clubs? You will end up with Glasgow and Edinburgh having enormous squad where half the players never play. At least if they leave that means there is more opportunity for Scottish players to play. Nobody ever became a top class centre by watching the game but never playing.

It all comes back to the way the SRU dealt with rugby turning professional, a subject that is worth an entire book of ranting. Suffice to say it is now nearly eighteen years later and it still is not right.

Don’t even get me started on how there can possibly be no professional side in the Borders and only two in the whole of Scotland.

So, before this all strays wildly off topic, lets summarise.

Scottish rugby is in a bit of a mess, but there is much to be positive about, certainly in the short to medium term. For a quick fix on the team, a classy 10,12,13 combination is the most necessary requirement, while the Head Coach selection is important but perhaps less vital than creating the right infrastructure around Scottish rugby as a whole.

Most important though, the players in the squad in the build up to the Six Nations need to be given confidence. That more than anything else is the number one task facing the new head coach.

They need to be reminded that they are playing international and elite club rugby for a reason, shown tapes of their best bits, anything to give them the confidence to go out and perform.

Let’s hope that whoever gets the job can manage that.

Angus Savage

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