You’ve heard of yin and yang, right? The Taoist notions that polar opposites give rise to one another through their mere existence, in the natural world at least? Well I never thought I’d accuse Andy Robinson of being a Taoist, but in yesterday’s squad announcement he displayed his need for yin and yang; the light and the dark; the positive and the negative; the real and the fictional. In effect he has given with one hand and taken away with the other.
There were positives there. Robinson has rewarded fine form and has even opened the door for some still finding their feet in professional rugby. For example when Paterson retired he did not revert back to the likes of Southwell or Danielli but called up Lee Jones and Stuart Hogg to flesh out his back three. He also made sure that the cult figures like Rob Harley, Greig Laidlaw and Duncan Weir got their call up. His bloated 36-man squad is one that includes players the regional fans have taken to.
Beneath the topsoil of these decisions, though, is Robinson’s grounding in uncertainty. He is a man fabled for his poor selections and whilst he has been bold here he has afforded himself that gallantness by making his squad big enough to contain contingency plans.
It is a completely negative move to have four prospective scrum-halves and four prospective stand-offs in one Six Nations squad.
It shows that he is unsure of the merits of each player and that he is prepared to play several different game plans during one circumscribed campaign. He makes a positive move by calling up both Weir and Laidlaw, the two 10s playing well for Glasgow and Edinburgh respectively. He then calls up Jackson who is publicly accepted as Robinson’s favourite project. Fair enough. However, to then call up Parks as well suggests that he is entirely prepared to regress, to shrink away from such bold new moves and play the same slow, constricted game that has served Scotland so poorly in the past.
As for his scrum-halves: the negativity of selection here could hamper Scotland’s rhythm if he does not declare one his favourite. Laidlaw is counted as the fourth in this scenario, too, but by having four scrum-halves Robinson ensures that the squad is lumbered with some competition in training but different styles during games. Perhaps this is seen as a good thing, but each 9 plays better with a different 10 and the two are tied. Pick Parks, you need a 9 who is prepared to pass behind himself and chase kicks. Pick Weir, you have to pick Cusiter. Pick Jackson, you could have a range of passes, but you are going to have to box kick. Blair and Laidlaw work well in tandem.
In short, Robinson is using up squad spaces because he won’t fully commit to a style of play. This is also why the selection of so many new faces will be good for training, and it will do those youngsters a world of good to experience that, but he is already thinking of what he wants to achieve with the group by using familiar players. It is fantastic that he has recognised form and some exciting young talents, but he wouldn’t promote without support.
With the exception of Weir, look at where the new faces have come in. Before the squad was announced the rumours being circulated were that Jones was due to get his chance and that the constant talk of a scouting network was to lay the foundation for some surprise selections. In Steve Shingler’s selection Robinson certainly shocked his support.
Now the SRU are caught bandying words with the Welsh Rugby Union over whether or not Shingler is even eligible to play for Scotland. According to the SRU the player signed no paperwork declaring himself a one Union man, but the Welsh have screamed out that this is irrelevant because Wales have no ‘A’ team and Shingler has already represented Wales’ second most prestigious team, their under20s. This will go before the IRB, and one feels that this will run and run. Yet it is impossible to shake the feeling that it is all just window dressing anyway.
Shingler is a good young player and is touted as a fantastic goal-kicker. He can play 10 or he can play 12. He is a versatile and capricious option. He is also a luxury. I have already heard that Robinson has a match day squad in mind for the opening game against the Auld Enemy. There are some surprising selections in the team I was told, which of course makes me question its authenticity, but I can understand why someone like Shingler would not be named in it.
He is a luxury because two days ago no one in Scotland would have assumed his selection. No one knew he was eligible. He is also a player with few ties to the current Scotland player pool and one unaccustomed with the style or personnel inherent to a good Scottish performance. Robinson wants to have more options and deepen that player pool. That is understandable. Of course if Shingler is declared eligible after IRB involvement then it would be fantastic, but it is doubtful that he would be thrown straight in against England. It is more likely that he would play in the Scotland ‘A’ fixture that same week, thus tying him to Scotland forever.
The Shingler affair will drag on for the next few weeks. Robinson, in his boldness, has created a distraction he may well regret as he tries to mould a slightly different squad. In the meantime he still has to name a captain, and if it is not one of his scrum-halves alone then we will be no closer to knowing how that squad will play game in, game out.
I’m heartily enthused, but I cannot help but acknowledge the lashing of yang Robinson has served up.
A Rumoured Scotland XV for the England game: