So how do we summarise our Rugby World Cup?
In order to be as impartial as a slighted Scot can be, I would strive to review this World Cup on its merits. I would not make grandiose comments about the state of our game at home just yet. Not before I do some more research, at least! Our obvious structural flaws will be laid bare in a few days…
Firstly I would like to say that some of our travelling party performed admirably. As a fan (which I cannot deny I am) I am fiercely proud of some of our performers. Jackson has come on a great deal and will continue to improve. He will grow into international games and with the familiarity of pressure a kicking game could sprout. I am also pleased with the way Kelly Brown led from the exile of 6. He is a physical and domineering presence, without saying too much. Also, despite his inherent flaws, Sean Lamont led a lot of Scottish play.
In support of these key men I felt Vernon and Ansbro did what was asked of them, when it was asked of them, and without fanfare. Allan Jacobsen is as consistent a performer as I have seen and Euan Murray and Ross Ford turned it on when it mattered. Ross Rennie has a right to feel aggrieved at how much game time he ended up getting, considering his performances and Max Evans looked dangerous when he got the bit between his teeth.
In the backroom, too, there were some great jobs done. Massimo Cuttitta gets a lot of stick, but after an embarrassing display against Romania we did well in the scrum in the rest of the games and were on top for most of the game against England. The Italian must surely get some credit for this.
In this vein of turnaround analyst Gav Scott must also get a mention. Scotland did not make the same mistakes twice in consecutive games (OK, there were kick-off receptions against Argentina and England which killed us, but that comes down to individual concentration because, honestly, there’s not a chance in hell that wasn’t highlighted!) and we had the right approach against Argentina and England to close down their key players in open play.
The medical team did well to ensure that Scotland had no need to fly in additional players.
Then, however, we come to those that disappointed.
Barclay and Gray were the big ones for me. Perhaps not dropped because they had been pulled out of rugby halfway through last season to focus on this World Cup, they played a lot of minutes but never really met the standards many have come to expect from them. Perhaps expectations were what nullified them, but they were certainly not Scottish protagonists.
In the middle of the park it was also fairly obvious that Morrison was not at the level of performance needed to punch through defences and control the back-line defence. He was not at the level he was a year ago. He is now also too old to change. On the other side of the coin De Luca, who did some nice things in his showings against Argentina and England, is far too erratic a player and may never reach a level of consistency or indeed play a complete single test match.
Loyal servant Parks and Paterson must now –in my opinion, of course –be allowed to finish their careers without the body damaging prospect of test rugby stretching out ahead of them. Parks did well to turn himself around and had a great 6N in 2010. Paterson has achieved so much and should be allowed to return home to deafening applause and a place in the Scottish Hall of Fame. It is, however, time to remould Scotland in a new image.
Which brings me to the coaches.
The squad that boarded the plane was probably the right one. There were few arguments with this. However between the first two games Scotland made 11 changes. The next game saw 5 changes and then 6 for England. That is a total 22 changes for 3 games. That is a mind-boggling inconsistency of selection, particularly when there was a huge change between playing Argentina and then England. There was a 6 day turnaround. The players would have recovered sufficiently in that time for a Pool decider.
This begs the question: was that our best team against Argentina? Was that our best team against England? If the answer was yes to one of those then some serious questions have to be asked about why there was no parity of selection when we were playing two top 10 international teams.
Maybe we grossly underrated Argentina. They lost some key players but beat us. However, it was ultimately Andy Robinson’s decision to make all of those changes and his squad rotation backfired. Sure make some changes from Romania to Georgia. 4 days is horrific as a turnaround. But to change between Argentina and England seems senseless. Almost rotation for rotations sake.
After the England game there was a moment where Robinson’s resolve appeared to have shattered. He looked tired. He looked heart-sick. He talked of being proud of what he had achieved with Scotland and was philosophical about the future. Now he says he wants to stay on, and I think he should. It makes sense as he is contracted until 2015, but also because one wonders what he could achieve if he was given four years to mould a new team and continue his message. The players clearly respect him.
As for his assistant, Gregor Townsend, it is perhaps time to say Thank You, but Goodbye.
Paterson was quoted last week as saying that Townsend always said that Scotland needed to score tries to be successful. He had no experience coaching teams how to score tries, and he hasn’t picked any up with Scotland. We haven’t scored in 3 games.
Wales call upon Wasps’ Shaun Edwards and Rob Howley once held dual positions with the Cardiff Blues and Wales. All of Ireland and England’s staff have previous coaching experience. Perhaps Scotland can follow a Welsh example and employ someone who also holds a similar position with a pro side or, less likely, a director of rugby to be our Attack/Backs coach?
If we, as I think we should, try to reshape the national team into a completely new beast without Parks, Paterson and maybe even Morrison I would like to see us do so with a finished style in mind. This could be done by someone with experience of doing this and experience of coaching regularly at an intense level. Also, Townsend was famed for being a creative and unpredictable individual. We don’t need players like that, we need a team. A team that moves together and has an understanding of itself. We need to find that from somewhere else.
This World Cup is officially the worst we’ve ever had. You can run and run but you’ll never get away from this fact. A former pro coach said to me earlier today that we all got carried away with some one-off results we’d had in the few years leading up to this tournament. It is over now and we must be critical and fair with our analysis. We must also move forward, utilising Robinson’s coaching ability and giving him better tools.
We have 4 years to rebrand and reshape Scotland. We need a new approach, but the same driving force. A team consistency with a fresh ethos. It sounds hard, but look at what Ireland have achieved since 2003. It is doable…