Monday 18 December 2017

Robinson acrimony adds bite to Scottish 'grudge'

Andy Robinson was sacked by England three years ago, on Saturday he will face them in Murrayfield Photo: Getty Images
Andy Robinson was sacked by England three years ago, on Saturday he will face them in Murrayfield Photo: Getty Images

Mick Cleary

Just over three years ago Andy Robinson was sacked by England. On Saturday evening he will stand, narrow-eyed and scowling as is his wont, as 'Flower of Scotland' skirls into life and justifiably wonder if his opponents at Murrayfield are any better now than when he was in charge.

If Robinson's Scotland side were to win, then the record of Martin Johnson, eight wins in what will be 18 matches by then, is not a whole heap more impressive than that of Robinson, who suffered 13 losses in his 22 matches in charge of England.

Mind you, Robinson was moved aside unceremoniously following a miserable run of eight defeats in nine games, a terminal state of affairs in modern sport.

Robinson has admitted to his own naivety in not fighting political battles. The one-time warrior of the rugby pitch had little stomach for the double-dealing of the committee room. Robinson had stop-start access to players and a schedule over which he had little control. All that has been rectified at a cost of £110m to the RFU. Johnson can pick and choose his men, play them and rest them as he sees fit -- much to the chagrin of James Haskell's employer at Stade Francais, Max Guazzini.

Yet still the results come only at a trickle. Much will be made of the Robinson-factor in the build-up to the latest running of the Calcutta Cup.

Will he sing the evocative song that revels in English discomfort? How will he respond to the presence of those RFU bigwigs who shunted him through the exit? All that sort of stuff is mere sideshow soap opera. As that rugby sage, former coach Jim Telfer, a man feared by his own and loved by all others, said at the weekend, it's about time the Scots grew up and stopped defining themselves by how anti-English they can be.

That it is the 20th anniversary of the famous slow-walk Grand Slam of 1990 is sure to stir emotions, all the more so given that there is a book, 'The Grudge', by Tom English, hitting the shelves now. It's a terrific bit of work, as engaging as the day itself was.

There will be a frisson at Murrayfield, as there always is. Robinson's role will be highlighted. But it is the passion and precision he aims to inject into the Scotland team on the day that will matter, not some patriotic doggerel. Robinson is under pressure to produce if Scotland are to avoid the wooden spoon.

Johnson, though, faces even greater scrutiny. His team have won a few matches along the way but they have rarely impressed.

Successive defeats against Scotland and France will only serve to ignite debate again over the management's fitness for purpose. All that money spent, all those structures dismantled and re-erected, all that hype and hope -- and for what?

True, the foundations are solid, the flow-through of talent beginning to happen, but for the seventh year in a row, mid-championship, England do not look as if they will be troubling the trophy-engravers. That's a paltry return on investment. Of course, two wins and the landscape changes.

All that has to happen if pointed comparisons are not to be made. The Scots will not need much bidding to invite England to head "homeward -- tae think again". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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