Scotland struggling to stick to Robinson script

By Ben DirsBBC Sport at Murrayfield
Highlights - Scotland 10-21 South Africa

Filleted by the razor-sharp All Blacks, splattered by the full-frontal Springboks: in the past week, Andy Robinson's Scotland have learned there are different ways to die when you mix it with the super-powers of the international game.

"Last week we were facing speed," said Robinson. "This week we were facing physicality. And it demonstrated the gulf between us and them.

"One thing we can take out of these first two games is that we can compete with the top two sides in the world. But what they have also shown is that if you don't do it for 80 minutes you won't be able to beat them."

"Taking the positives" is one of the most irritating pieces of modern sporting jargon and a phrase that has been uttered so many times by Scotland players and coaching staff in recent years it could be the motto of the SRU.

But with Scotland, more than most other teams, the jargon rings true: when you look into Robinson's narrowed eyes at the post-match news conference, his frustration plain for all to see, you genuinely feel for the man.

Because for all the false dawns and unfulfilled promises, Robinson at least appears to have a plan: a fast-paced, rucking game that has been reined in to be more realistic of late, with less mindless wing-to-wing passing and more thought for field position. But if your players don't stick to your rules for 80 minutes of every game against top-class opposition, the likelihood is you'll lose.

Against the Dan Carter-inspired All Blacks, and despite losing 51-22, Scotland competed for long periods of the game. But Scotland were largely undone by their drift defence, a tactic Robinson seemed as mystified by as everyone else.

Against a brutal Springbok side, Scotland were undone by a lack of discipline before the break and a failure to match their opponents' physicality. Young lock Eben Etzebeth and flanker Willem Alberts were particularly potent.

In the second half, once Glasgow scrum-half Henry Pyrgos had replaced Mike Blair and lit the fuse, Scotland were by far the better side, mangling a tired South African pack in the scrum and battering away at the visitors' line.

That Scotland were unable to add to Pyrgos's training-ground try owed as much to the Springboks' magnificent defence as the hosts' lack of a cutting edge.

Jim Hamilton and Euan Murray went close and, while Greig Laidlaw was guilty of kicking away ball in promising attacking positions against the Springboks, it should not be forgotten that only last Sunday Scotland scored three tries against New Zealand, something no other side has been able to do in 2012.

While the 23-year-old Pyrgos was a revelation, tight-head Murray, who did not play in the game against the All Blacks because of religious reasons, reminded the Murrayfield faithful what they had been missing. Loose-head Ryan Grant was unyielding and belligerent, while Scotland's back row, where they have some depth, were everywhere in the final 30 minutes.

The conundrum as far as Robinson is concerned is how to get all the parts of his machine working at the same time. Against the top two sides in the world, that was always going to be a big ask. Against inferior northern hemisphere sides in the Six Nations, Robinson's plan might finally take root.

"South Africa have got a plan and it works for them," he said. "They all understand the way they want to play. They've got strong ball-carriers, the pack has balance and physicality and they play off that to dominate field position."

Heyneke Meyer's plan is similar to pretty much every South Africa head coach before him and it must be particularly frustrating for Robinson that, while his players have a tendency to stray from the script, Meyer's men follow his to the letter.

"I'll always take an ugly win, it doesn't matter against who," said Meyer after the game. "We played tactically well in the first half and built an innings. In the second half we gave away too many penalties but our defence was awesome."

"Winning ugly", "building an innings" - hardly the language of romance. But for South Africans, romance doesn't mean playing like the All Blacks, it means not losing. Having an ethos, having a plan, following that plan through. What Robinson is striving for with Scotland and he may yet achieve one day.


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