This is a curious feeling, this one. It reverberates with the familiar hollowness, sure, but it doesn’t ring with the same sharp pain. The pain is slightly more dull. Like it was expected, but really it is much more pleasant that that crushing failure against the English…
The aftermath of Scotland’s defeat to France was played out like so many rehearsed functions before it. Five losses in a row meant that the press pack were duty bound to ask about Robinson’s position. He did not shy away from the question. His players, however, were close to recoiling.
“Everyone is just a bit bored of this feeling,” Ross Rennie said after the match. “”It’s very frustrating. We are improving week to week and I think the games are showing that. Some of our attack was really good.”
Lee Jones also said to me how players who were told they had press duties where left asking, “What do we say to them?”
The circumstances may be different, but the outcome is the same. “We lacked a bit of composure at times,” Rennie said. How many times have we heard that? “I got away from his [Malzieu’s] fend but he got through me,” Jones accepted. He and Laidlaw slipped off a few tackles and France punished Scotland.
It is incontestable that Scotland played lovely rugby at the start, but France sapped them of all their strength in the dying minutes of the game. Scotland were competitive in the first few scrum exchanges, but by the end France had them reeling. Stuart Hogg and passes from Laidlaw did have holes appearing, but France simply had to draw a one on one tackle and they had a scoring opportunity.
Improving? Yes, things are, but improving is not cause for handing over Championship points and unpopping corks.
So we come clunking back to Robinson’s question. Is he one to throw in the towel? He doesn’t look like the type. He is a proud, almost stoic character at times, more prone to jutting out a lower jaw than gurning. True he did offer a critique of Barnes when he suggested the turning point of the game was a penalty given to France when Rougerie himself had allegedly infringed, but you could tell his heart was not really in this. That did not force his own front row to give away penalties.
He will not be pushed, that is for sure. All other signs suggest he will not walk. He has finally tried to mould a back-room staff in his own image, asking a man he says he respects, Scott Johnson, to come in as well as replacing Steadman with someone he is alleged to have said is better. He is unlikely to jump ship before he gets a chance to test these guys out on a summer tour.
It is also prudent to point out that by finally selecting his own staff, he is trying to shake off his tag of ‘poor selector’. He is putting his foot down and taking loyalty out of his thinking, as he is coming round to doing the same with his team selections.
He is a man who takes his ghosts everywhere with him. When he said Scotland’s backline on Sunday was almost as good as that of Calder, Jeffrey and White you knew he was a man who holds on. He is unwilling to throw in a youngster because of his experiences with a young Matt Tait and England. He is apprehensive about chucking out coaches when he was part of a long-serving, surviving England backroom team.
He finally has some exciting young players at his disposal. He is also yet to say Matt Scott is ready and he is still to have an internationally cleared Tim Visser with him. The problem is that before he gets to that point he is fast sliding down the World Rankings. There is very little else anyone else could do about that, though, isn’t there?
In the end it comes down to what the players buy in to. They are the ones that are failing to see off games, after all. It has taken three games for Robinson to pick the most exciting players, but he is there now and with injuries there is no real surprising back up. There will be no bolters and no stars bursting in.
So with the squad as it is and with Robinson about to have the backroom staff he wants there is little chance he will jump ship or that Mark Dodson will punt him. The only way he could take his leave is if the players stage a coup. Fitting, then, that the normally reserved Ross Ford felt the need to point out to the press that the players wholeheartedly backed the Robinson Project.
Results are poor, but they do not belie Scotland’s standing in World rugby. Robinson has not pulled off any miracles and he has lost the tight games. He now has some kids at his disposal and some staff to come in the future. If injuries ravage Ireland then maybe Scotland can turn them over a week on Saturday, but now he will be looking at Italy and the summer tour. It is doubtful that he would quit before his project enters the next phase.
Are the Scotland faithful happy with that hollow reality?
Nothing shocking came from that France result…