Once all and sundry had been handed a team sheet and cajoled into sitting down to talk about selections as a group –everyone agreeing that a sell-out was fantastic for Scotland –Andy Robinson sat and delivered a speech he had obviously been working on.
His reasoning lucid and his line honest, he explained why it was necessary to pick the centres he picked, why Jackson would not be needed this time round and why he felt the French demanded something more…concerted from the Scots.
“You see that I have made a couple of changes.
“I’m absolutely delighted for Stuart Hogg. What you will see from him is from a step by step progression. He came into the squad for the St. Andrews camp and did really well. He played in the Saxons game and was exemplary in his performance. Then he came off the bench in Cardiff. What you saw from him was a really composed performance and in some respects he has that ability to handle the pressure of international rugby- which is great, as he is given his first start.
“We are disappointed with the injuries that we got, for Max [Evans] to pick up the injury that he got and for Al Strokosch. So I’ve looked at the team, to look at what would be best for beating France. I’ve obviously made the change in the centre, bringing Graeme Morrison back in, moving Sean to 13.
“I think that’s a great match-up with Fofana and Rougerie, I really do. I think that’s going to be a phenomenal battle in that midfield. Graeme has done well going back to Glasgow, captaining the side but also doing well in his performances having been on the bench for us in the first game of the Championship.
“In the way we are trying to play the game it is important that we keep the ball for many phases. If you look at the average that we have kept the ball in play for the first two matches, the ball had been in play for an average of forty minutes. What we believe is that if we keep the ball in play and play multi-phase against France that we can test them and test their fitness.”
With this Robinson eluded to the referee not letting France slow the ball down, but he also justified the selection of John Barclay. He acknowledged the breaking power of Vernon, but with a need to keep the game going with phase after phase, not even making huge amounts of yards but wearying the French, Barclay is more likely to ensure that the ball stays Scottish.
He also stated that Jackson had done OK, but if he was to pick Laidlaw his other 10 would have to be a tactical alternative to Laidlaw’s running. Weir offered more of a kicking change and Jackson would be allowed to play a few more games with Glasgow.
Blair was brought in, and with this call Robinson levelled with the press. He said, Cusiter “has not been at his best” and so was dropped for Blair, who had been industrious when brought on. He did, however, make it clear that he saw Cusiter as his first choice 9.
In this vein of honesty he also said that Matt Scott had done well in training but that he would be phased in, progressing like others before him, in order to make it a “positive experience” for the young man.
He did not go any further with this, but you can understand Robinson’s stance here. Hogg has shown how special he is and can be brought in from full-back. He has time there. With Matt Scott, though, he would be flung into a game against an imposing French outfit. Robinson will still be haunted by the Tait affair when he was England head coach. He will never be so foolhardy again, one suspects.
In actual fact, this team selection is one that is set up to stop France from cutting loose. Weir is the tactical back-up but Lamont is in his more familiar 13 and he and Morrison are possibly Scotland’s most vocal defensive pairing in midfield. Ansbro would certainly be recalled if he was fit, but this is a smart defensive unit.
On Sunday expect a smart, tactical defensive performance. Morrison, Ford and Barclay will marshal and Rennie and S. Lamont will shoot, looking for intercepts or ball steals. Abstract snippets betray as much.
Robinson said that Scotland were the Championship’s “Leading passing and offloading team,” but also said France would be beaten round the corner, with ball retention.
Keep up as many offloads against France? “We’ve been punished for the errors that we’ve made. I don’t see those as structural errors”. He wants a solid adherence to the plan.
“The one area where you get severely tested is at the scrum and lineout… They destroyed us in the scrum last year.” He wants a collective effort. Tight, vocal, practical, smart.
That is how you beat France.