The revelations of the last few days that the SRU don’t want to tour the big southern hemisphere nations because it will stifle our developing players has, understandably, been met with disdain from some quarters. Robbo says “as far as our overseas tours are concerned I do not believe it would be beneficial for us to play a series of three Tests against the individual SANZAR countries at the end of our season. What I believe works for us, from a performance perspective, is a mix between SANZAR and Tier 2 unions as that gives us the opportunity to develop players which is part and parcel of touring”. Meanwhile, a great number of Scottish fans will be saying, “WOW! Look at him spin!”
Sure there is always the notion that we will be thumped and humiliated and young, budding internationals could take a knock to the confident from such a hammering. This doesn’t mean that we should be discouraged. Robinson is not going to chuck a kid in amongst world class opposition, ever again (Remember Tait getting dry humped into the turf, in 2005?!). So where is the risk? Surely players always want to test their mettle against the best? One off Tests are, it would seem, the soft option. Damage limitation until 2018.
If we step away from the “beneficial performance” concept, though, there is something glaringly obvious. It all boils down to money. While Ebenezer McKie is at the helm we will always take the most economically viable option. In the Autumn let the big guns come to us, because whether or not we get our arses skelped won’t matter; Murrayfield will be packed out in Black for any New Zealand game.
On the other side of this coin, however, is the fact that, for Summer Tests, stadiums in SANZAR will not be packed out for three games against Scotland. Realistically, we are not a big enough draw. So how do we propose to remedy this situation? By playing one of games and entering in tours or mini tournaments with Tier 2 nations. If we go back to player progression, future Test starters like Jim Thompson, Roddy Grant and Richie Gray will learn very little from hammering teams like Georgia and Romania. Beating Australia and Ireland were massive for us, and shows that some of the talent coming through, like Beattie and Barclay, are truly world class. We shouldn’t be resting on our laurels for the sake of solidifying 10th in the IRB rankings, or clinging to a win percentage, like Charlie Hodgeson trying to make just one international tackle against the Baa-Baas.
So in the ideal world, where beer is slimming and bin men earn billions, how would we sort this? After all, we have to build on our promising displays. Ideally we would win some one of Tests, and show the SANZAR countries it is in their interest to let the Scots play. If this is indeed Andy Robinson’s idea then this would tend to suggest he is in it for the long haul. If the SRU have enforced this and told him, “Robbo, support this, will ya? We’ve already got Graham ‘Shorty got low, low, low, low, low, low’ Lowe on board”, then they have an invested interest in short term profits from somewhere (not like a Scottish snooker bung, though!). Either way it becomes abundantly clear that both parties have put most of their eggs in the WC2011 basket. An impressive showing in the Southern Hemisphere in front of the world, a semi-final place, would mean that after 2018 we would be considered more for Summer tours. That, or we will have to make do with wrestling the Russians while Wales sun themselves in Sydney.
So how come I’m still quietly optimistic about the WC, then?! Scotland loves an underdog!