Falling Off The Summit

Welcome to the precipice. In front of you is a sharp drop. A fall from grace. Behind you is a queue of people waiting to push you off. That same queue of people that always said Scottish rugby wasn’t very good. You always ignored them. Hoping that the glory days would return. Now you have to listen to their deafening chant and you can’t fight the urge to look down…

At the weekend Scottish rugby had to take a look at itself. After results like the ones we had on Friday, Saturday and Sunday things are looking bleak. If Scottish rugby was a TV show it would be on hiatus by Wednesday. However, the show, no matter how patchwork and ill-motivated its cast will now be, must go on.

In high performance sport there is an onus on review. Even semi-professional clubs in Premier One use video analysis. We must see where, when and why things went wrong.

The issue with this is that everyone in the country, including those at the SRU, know what the problems are. Edinburgh and Glasgow have no money and a limited playing pool to select from. The national team have even more of a shallow pool to pick from. We only really have 4 props, 2 hookers and 3 second rows good enough for International rugby. We only have a couple of wingers, a few centres, 2 full-backs and –judging by Dan Parks’ fairly selfish excuses, and his woeful decision to kick rather than take contact in the dying minutes of the game –only have one stand-off able to run a game.

This may seem harsh but the truth is that as a nation we can only call on a certain number of players, and a lot of them are not good enough for test match rugby.

During the game against Argentina, though, we could have won the game. I will never say we should: if we should we would have. Talk of offsides and slowed ball is infantile, though, because in a performance driven sport we are fully aware that if Dan Parks took contact instead of opting to swipe his left foot at the ball we could have set up a ruck and continued to work. Furthermore, and most importantly, we would not have needed to kick points in the dying minutes if players like Chris Paterson and Jim Hamilton had made their tackles on Amorosino.

The try was not a moment of magic. It was three or four moments of sloppiness from the Scottish defence.

So why should this hurt so much? Argentina are ranked higher than us in World Rankings and were 3rd at World Cup 2007. Well, it hurts because it shows us two things: 1) That the players that are good enough to play Test rugby were certainly good enough to win on Sunday and; 2) Scotland must now start planning for a complete rejuvenation of its rugby.

I felt that, on Sunday, Andy Robinson made some terrible decisions. He took off a Ruaridh Jackson who was finally growing into a Test player, and put on Dan Parks. He also removed captain and vice-captain Rory Lawson and Ross Ford. By the time Kelly Brown left the field, injured, none of the key decision makers that had started the game were able to impact on proceedings as Scotland went down to a weaving try.

I have no doubts in my mind that if Jackson was on instead of Parks he would have taken contact as Contepomi rushed out of defence. I also feel that if we had substituted Chris Paterson 20mins into the second half, as he was kicking possession away rather poorly and had knocked on, and had Ansbro starting at 13 we would not have missed the tackles on Amorosino. Instead we let Argentina win.

Andy Robinson has done many great things for the team since coming in, but in reality his record is no better than his predecessor’s. Brian Moore once said of Robinson that he was a great coach but a terrible selector. We saw the truth in this statement on Sunday. He does, however, have a long-term contract and he and Graham Lowe have a huge few years ahead of them.

At the moment Scotland need to beat 6N champions England. A team that only conceded four tries during that tournament. We also need a favour from Georgia or for us and Argentina to win heavily. It is a massive ask. Scotland have made an Everest for themselves from a game they were winning by 6 points, 72 minutes in.

If we fail –which I would never say is a certainty –we must face facts. It would be our worst ever showing as a nation and Robinson would have led us to that. At home we would be faced with two pro sides that had lost to two Italian teams. One coach, Lineen, has already said to me that he has had to deal with kids and a new team every season. The other had allegedly admitted to a group of coaches in the summer that the way Edinburgh play and with their personnel they are either set up to thrill or to take a hammering.

There needs to be a plotted course for our sport. Mark Dodson, Lowe and Robinson have an unenviable task of trying to salvage Scotland. We need to find more players. Better players. We need to make them. If we create great youth players we have the chance to nurture competition when we reach the international level. Our great white hope Mark Bennett has severely damaged his knee whilst in France with Clermont Auvergne but we are capable of producing exciting talent. We just need more.

For the team out there just now we need a performance greater than any we have seen from Scotland in the last four years. We need to take the right decisions and be brave with them. That counts for the coach, too.

We need to conquer England or we will fall off the International map.

Rory is the editor of Scottish Rugby Blog, and has offered a fan's view on Scottish Rugby since founding the blog.

5 responses to this article

  1. Boston Exile said:

    Pretty much agree with 95% of what you’ve said. The rebuilding of Scottish rugby needs to go down to school level, that needs to be followed by investment in clubs. This would probably need local authority help but right now budgets are getting tighter and more important initiatives need the money too. At the very least we need a 3rd side in Scotland and also some kind of link with London Scottish. I should be amazed at the ineptness of the SRU but then again its one of the reasons I headed west and looking at debacles like Edinburgh’s trams I suspect little has improved.

    What I still don’t get is our inability to produce good midfield backs. Never an issue in the 70s or 80s but I would have relished playing opposite Parks and Morrision (really!) .

  2. Allan said:

    Unfortunately, it often takes a catastrophic incident for major change to occur in every field in life. What are the key problems with the National side:

    1. One dimensional back play, no changes of angles, no dummy runners etc.
    2. Poor ball retention skills at the the tackle point. Ball coughed up or lost forward. Poor body angles when taking contact.
    3. Inability of players to off-load. Few players capable of passing out of the tackle or drawing a tackler and passing wide. Dont they play games in training?
    4. Lack of leadership on field. Too many passive players not taking responsibility or communicating with officials.
    5. Poor decision making at the key times Players are simply not clever enough when they play the game. Do they even watch rugby when not playing? Learn from the best, watch what the likes of Carter etc do.

    Fixing these issues at Senior level needs a root and branch change at all levels. The Scottish Parliament stated that kids MUST do at least two hours of sport per week at school, less than a third of schools have achieved this. Unacceptable! Ours is a nation of sedentary kids who stay indoors and get fat and lazy, no amount winning test matches will change this until there is an attitude change. Why do we play rugby in the bleak depths of winter? Would you want to go out in snow and rain if you were a young boy or girl if you have an xbox or X-Factor is on TV? Summer rugby, especially for junior level, is the key. Club rugby would also benefit as it would nt be in competition with nedball. Soapy Salmond and his gravy train riding cronies need to drive the health, fitness and sport agenda hard, no pissing money away on a tramline from South Gyle to Harvey Nicks!

    Also, this nonsense that our pro teams have no money is just a smokescreen. How much are our pro playeers paid? £50k-£100k p.a.? Can they not be pro rugby players on £30k -£50k.? Thats a good wage for any person to live comfortably on. The reduction in salaries across the boards at the SRU and the pro-teams would free up cash to invest in coaching, facilities, equipment for schools etc, etc. It may not be much but its a start.

    On the subject of coaching, do our coaches at school and club level have the requisite skills (badges etc) or are we simply relying on well meaning amateurs who do it for the love of the game? If we are, we need to support these guys and get them the coaching skills and qualifications they need to develop talent.

    If the fundamentals aren’t right, the product will fail. We need to get it right from the bottom up. This will take time but it will come good eventually if the SRU, in partnership with Scottish Government make the right choices.

    One final rant, I suspect that the level of cronyism at the SRU is still crippling the game. Case in point, David Blair gets a contract, Rory Hutton does not……..

    Actually, make that two, What the hell is Gregor Townsend paid for?????????

  3. Andy said:

    The reality of the situation is this. There is no question that Robinson made selection and substitution errors at the weekend. There is also no question that we wont be able to attract a better coach than him. The reality is, accept his failings or throw caution to the wind and go for a high risk unproven coach.

    “Invest in grass roots”, “Reorganisation from the top” etc etc…substitute the RU for FL and you have the same situation at Hampden. This is where we are nationally. Sport, or more accurately taking part in sport no longer has the attraction to the “X-Factor/Playstation Generation”.

    Bar the final result, I thouroughly enjoyed the game. Lamont, Evans, Morrison had their best games in a Scotland jersey. We played all the rugby, but couldn’t finish. We should accept where we are, attempt to improve, but retain a sense of realism on what our potential really is.

    At a guess, I’d say 40 to 50 players earn a living from the game in Scotland. Which other professional sport would expect to “dine at the top table” of international sport under those circumstances? Some might say we are punching above our weight. As a child of the grand slams generation I know only too well how hard it is to accept that a Finlay Calder isnt going to run through a brick wall just to wear the shirt.

    Even with the reality check above, you know where I am going to be on Saturday morning at 0830…..sitting in front of the telly, blood boiling with pride with visions of glorious victory against the Auld Enemy. Time will tell where we end up. Everyone knows what history suggests. It wont stop me believing.

  4. Michael said:

    It’s not just a Scottish problem, it’s a British and Irish problem. Attitude is the key and for years Britain and Ireland have been lagging behind when it came to sports/recreation planning and investment. Scotland have the biggest problem because they’re further north, weather is more extreme and inhibits the level and style of rugby you want to play. Summer rugby is a great idea, especially for the world cup, sick of looking at rain on the tv, I see enough of it here. Irish soccer changed to the summer and it’s paying off now because they’re ready for European competition as well as playing on better surfaces. It’s little changes that are needed but you have to step on peoples feet sometimes for the greater good.

  5. Hamish said:

    Problem is that Scottish players just don’t look comfortable with ball in hand. Compare the Samoans when they were desperate for a win against SA and the speed and quality of the way they move the ball. Compare our level of back play with the other home nations countries – you can’t say that the weather is so much worse in Scotland than it is in the other home nations that we can’t handle the ball with anything like their skill. Something is wrong with the way our kids and young players are being coached, because by the time they get to the upper echelons of the sport, it’s too late.

    I think it’s an easy excuse to blame government investment on our lack of performance in football and rugby, and they’re certainly not blameless, but my sporting experiences started before school with my parents, particularly my dad, who was a sports fan. By the time I came along, he wasn’t actively playing sport, but as a teacher he was reffing and coaching rugby and umpiring cricket, playing with me and my brother in the garden or at the park, and getting us involved in clubs as soon as we were able.

    A kid’s activities, diet, values, performance and everything else owe more to what goes on at home rather than their school experiences and it’s a massive cop-out to blame our children’s ills on the politicians. As a nation, we are unhealthy and have a bad relationship with alcohol, a national stereotype that we seem to wear like a badge of honour rather than recognise it for the problem that it is. Even the alcohol problem is blamed on politicians and pricing, as if it’s being forced down our throats.

    It’s adult participation that is down in sport as much as youth. If participating in sporting and outdoor activity was something that was ingrained in family life, then kids would follow suit. As for the ‘playstation’ generation, it’s another cop-out. My kids would watch TV or play on a computer for hours if they were left to their own devices, just as I would have done when I was a kid – up to parents to get them out and chuck, kick or hit a ball at them.

    As far as falling off the rugby summit goes, we’ve been scrabbling around on the slopes kidding ourselves with the odd victory over England (based on doughty defence and England’s post 2003 insecurities) One Heineken Cup QF in 15 years is a true reflection of where Scottish rugby is and every year it seems to get further away, despite the consolidation into two pro teams.