The Aftermath

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…

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14 comments on “The Aftermath

  1. Angus on

    Very good article and I would agree with 90%.

    The bottom line though, is 2 years ago when the seeding for the world cup was done we were 10th in the IRB rankings and went in as the 3rd seed in our pool behind England and Argentina

    2 years on we are ranked 9th in the world and we exit the world cup with all the other 3rd seeds / 2nd tier nations according to the script

    So when I hear talk about progress already made and progress to come I get more than a little bemused

    Especially when the coaches of the other sides to exit after the pool stages are resigning (Russia), getting the boot (Japan) or being touted for better things (Canada) our coach has none of these concerns as he already had a contract which goes until after the NEXT world cup in 2015

    Does Alex Ferguson even get contracts that long?

    Yes I agree we need a proven and experienced Attack coach, but where does the responsibility end? Not there surely, because an attack coach works within the guidelines, boundaries and philosophies of the Head coach.

    The facts show that for all the talk of improvement and setting a platform for the future, we are in almost exactly the same pitiful position in the IRB rankings as 2 years ago (we can thank Fiji for going so far downhill for our step up) and we have failed to make the 1/4s for the first time ever in the World Cup

    If that doesn’t indicate we have progressed not one iota in 2 years and it is time for change at all levels then I really don’t know what does.

  2. Hamish on

    The selection was the key thing for me, which puts into question the build up and the decision to have just 2 warm up games. The players that were rested at the tail end of last season and the others coming back from injury were always going to need game time, and two matches was never going to be enough, either to try out different combinations in match situations or then to give combinations time to bed down. These warm ups didn’t need to be full internationals – could have been against club sides – like a batsman needs time in the middle over net practice. How can we expect our top players to suddenly start scoring tries for fun with such inadequate preparation. Fitzpatrick and others in the ITV studio could barely disguise their mirth when Thom Evans said that the Scottish back moves always seemed to work in training, so he couldn’t understand why they didn’t work in the game.s

    Andy Robinson is a bit Jekyll and Hyde in the way he works because he was so quick to make changes in certain areas such as scrum half and centre, yet stuck religiously to certain individuals, namely Barclay, Gray and Paterson.

    Once Jackson had shown in the Argentina game that he could nail pressure kicks, the attacking move for me was to give him the responsibility and bring in Lamont at full back – Philippe Saint Andre saw enough of him at Sale to take him to Toulon yet he doesn’t seem trusted by Scotland. He gives Scotland a threat from full back that Paterson, for all his qualities over the years, doesn’t provide any more.

    Gray is young and perhaps too much was expected of him after a stellar first 6N, but Barclay is possibly the most frustrating player in the Scotland set up. 2 to 3 seasons ago I really thought he was going to be a Scotland great to rival David Leslie and Finlay Calder, yet he seems to have gone backwards. Rarely does he link play in attack and his main contribution is disruption and slowing down of oppo ball, but for me he gets pinged too many times and doesn’t generate enough turnovers. In some ways I wish he’d left the comfort zone of Glasgow a couple of years ago to test himself at the highest level.

    On the plus side, Ross Ford finally seems to have the rocket up his arse that he has needed for years and Jackson looks like he could be the answer.

    The most damning aspect is our complete lack of comfort with ball in hand which has been the case for years and hasn’t been addressed. This is something that needs to be addressed at a lower level than the national squad. I’ve been away from Scotland since the early nineties, so can’t comment on what’s going on further down in Scotland, but it’s not working. The pro sides are not succeeding and the consolidation from 3 to 2 has not had a positive effect on results. Our 18-21 year olds are way behind their peers in the other home nations. I’d love to see a Brian Ashton or somebody of that calibre brought in to take charge of an academy and identifying the next generation of pro players – to me, it’s a more important role than the top job, because by the time they get to the top, it’s too late.

    Four years ago, we needed a converted try against Argentina and Dan Parks put in a chip for the corner which failed and the game was over. On Saturday, we needed a try to get the 8 points, and he stuck up a bomb. Like Parks and like our backs generally, Scottish rugby is standing still.

  3. doug pennycuick on

    An excellent and well balanced article. I am left wondering if there was an additional and crucial missing element, a real belief in our ability and in what needed to be achieved. For this we need to look at leadership on the field, perhaps again time for change.

  4. Gordon on

    Alan,

    I totally agree with your comments and feel Scotland should now look towards a reshaped team, and robinson is in my mind the man to lead it right now. But perhaps a longer sighted 8 year plan for the international team would be more benificial- in the long run.

    If we could put our resources into Glasgow / Edinburgh as well as youth set ups over the next four years we could hopefully have both pro teams challenging around the top four of the Magners League come 2015, this along with some good marketing could encourage more people to the grounds, more people buying the tops, leisure wear etc (anyone else noticed you can’t buy Edinburgh kit for this season yet? surley a money maker?!) and you have more revenue coming in. only then, After a period of success at this level & B&I cup should we reinvest in the national team.

    Could be mistaken but throwing money and coaching resources at the best players from two teams who really haven’t been making an impact in their league can only take you so far? surely the better, yet tougher option is to concede were going to work with what we have for the next world cup, and aim for getting out the groups. After that, really build on a solid set of young lads coming through the ranks at around 2015, all of which have had 4 years of solid coaching and development?

    I’m a huge fan of scottish rugby, fiercly proud and yearn for something to be chuffed about, even if it is just Magners League success in the short run, If you have 70-80 % of your team coming from Edinburgh & Glasgow sides who are used to winning, like winning and have it expected of them everytime they walk on to a pitch, translating that to international success should be an easier task than it is at present.

    Please feel free to comment / shoot holes my argument. Im in no way claiming to be an authority on the subject!!

  5. A.D. on

    Some good comments.

    Gordon: both are mutually exclusive but there is no money for Edinburgh and Glasgow right now and it would be so much easier to market Scottish rugby (it is all the same brand, and the 2 pro teams are bundled up in this) if we had made the quarters.
    We haven’t and Mark Dodson now has to sell ‘the Rebuild’ to investors.

    Doug: Kellock is a good talker, but probably our least skilled player. The only players who talked, and were listened to, seemed to be him, Paterson and Lawson. Kelly Brown led by example. Only Paterson was on the pitch in last 10 against Argentina.

    For me, going into the next 6N make Kelly Brown captain, Let Lawson deputise and tell John Barclay that he can’t moan and he must perform.

    Hamish & Angus: As the cliché goes, the children are our future.
    I’m in the middle of researching into avenues we can go down to start creating better players and then bridging the gap from 16yo to 22yo.

  6. Angus on

    Update – IRB ranking just released puts us down to 10th after being overtaken by Tonga – http://www.irb.com/rankings/full.html so we are in exactly the same place as 24 months ago

    Couple of points

    Leadership – v Argentina, Tour captain Kellock is not selected in the squad, Lawson is Captain on the day with Ford VC,

    Captain is replaced after around 60 minutes then VC is replaced after 70. Who was running the show for the last 10 minutes?

    Selection – unless there was an injury to Lawson I am not aware of how do you go from being captain to not even being in the squad 6 days later?

    Ability – I firmly believe there is the ability in this squad to be at least 3 if not 4 places higher in the rankings within 12 months

    Junior/age group players – I have lived in Australia for 25 years having played and now coached (8 years) and the organisation and skill levels you see here at school boy level are astounding. This then flows into the quality you see coming into Colts at a club level (U 19)

    Part of this has to be due to the fact the School coaches are pretty well all ex A Grade club coaches who now hold positions of Director of Rugby/Head Coach with the schools as full time positions for a lot more money than they would receive from clubs

    The result is obvious. The quality of coaching at a school level is some of the highest available and the result is the quality of players of around 17/18 is of a very high standard

    The direct result is that Australia are always in or abouts the final of the U19 / U20 World cups while Scotland languish

  7. Dave on

    “Kellock is a good talker, but probably our least skilled player”
    Our least skilled player is clearly Nick De Luca

  8. Rory on

    I agree with Hamish on the fullback issue. Al and I were discussing this over a beer and figured it was time just to say to Jackson: you’re the guy. And let him handle the kicking too. Then you can pick who you like at fullback rather than who you “need” to.

    Great article though, I should leave you in charge more often AD!

  9. Iain on

    I agree with its Townsends time to go, he really needed to prove himself as a coach getting a national position of the back of zero coaching experience and he looks to have failed.

    The backs looked as clueless as ever in this competition in terms of their attack and lacking basic skills.

    I would look to someone like Craig Chalmers to be given a shot although he is probably not in favour with people at the SRU he has atleast proven his attacking coaching abilities at Melrose.

  10. A.D. on

    Ian: If we are serious about competing, which we keep saying we are, we have to look outside and into other pro environments for our attacking options… but we need more experience than Prem1.

    We have little cash and I think the attack coach should be someone who coaches attack at a top level every week- not a full time SRU employee who only puts his vision into practice 5 to 7 times a year.

    One point to explore that no one ever makes: we are always happy to have defence coaches from League, but some of the handling and ‘backline’ moves I have seen in the past few years in the NRL and Super League have been breathtaking. Why does no one ever look at the coaching of league attack?

    Rory: Left in charge with ne’ry an email or tweet. Stranded like Tom Hanks in Castaway. Or was it The Terminal? Sleepless in Seattle..?

    I almost went out of my mind trying to post something relevant every day. The moanings of an irrelevant man…
    However, it was quite fun. Lot of article ideas for next few weeks, too. Probably a lot more interviews, too.

  11. MJW on

    Really enjoyed the coverage of the RWC, AD and Rory, well done guys. I’m on this site almost evey day to check for something new. Keep it up!

    Might be worth checking out the Forum of Scottish Rugby Supporters. A good place to advertise your articles, and I’m sure a few of them could be tempted to come over here and comment below the line.

  12. Iain on

    You are not wrong in looking for high level coach however, I dont believe many coaches in a pro enviroment from league or union would be attracted by the job.

  13. JustinH on

    Fantastic article, well written, and to the point. Agree with your points.

    I recently stumbled across this website, as I love my SRU. I have followed this blog all the way through the RWC2011, and will continue to be a regular on here.

    Great articles guys, great job with the blog.

    Keep it up!!!

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