By Rory Baldwin
Scotland’s 2012 RBS 6 Nations match came to an end in Rome on Saturday much like their tournament as a whole – in a mish mash of penalties, errors and frustration.
Several of their performances this year have been positive in some way without ever achieving victory but since the pseudo-highs of France it is almost like they have regained consciousness, only to find they have no memory of who they are or what they can do. They know they can play rugby, but are unsure exactly when or why to apply their skills. Scotland, at the moment, are rugby’s Jason Bourne.
As I mentioned in my previous piece, Andy Robinson seems to fix one issue only for another to rear its ugly head. You could also make the argument that it is actually injuries (or retirements) that are “fixing” the problems: bringing in Stuart Hogg and Greig Laidlaw, allowing a place for Ross Rennie and John Barclay on the same team. On Saturday it was a late injury to Allan Jacobsen that gave Jon Welsh his big chance; he duly settled down the Scotland scrum, taking on a fired-up Martin Castrogiovanni in the process and yielding little.
With that seemingly sorted, the line-out which had hitherto been Scotland’s best source of quick ball turned into a nightmare that Ross Ford and his jumpers will not soon forget. Ford used to have severe throwing issues; we must hope they have not returned again, and that this was a blip. Robinson must also be culpable here, as Ford could and probably should have been substituted for Scott Lawson at half time. Scotland had at least three attacking line-outs well into the Italian half, resulting in three turnovers.
Richie Gray, too, had an off day, but although blame may in some quarters be apportioned to those who misbehaved most obviously – perennial scapegoat Nick De Luca, Jim Hamilton – this was actually a team performance almost uniformly bad.
Italy were of course worthy of the win, on the scoreboard and the stats, but with the sun-shining it turned into the dog fight we had expected if hoped to avoid and both sides were unwilling (Italy) or unable (Scotland) to play fast and loose. This was a Dan Parks sort of game; but Kris Burton of Italy was the one snatching drop goals.
Robinson may well be wondering where to go next with Scotland, or indeed whether to bother. He has a contract through to the Rugby World Cup in 2015 and will want to see it through, being a proud and strong-willed rugby man. In his mind there are definite signs of growth. Regardless of what we think of decisions like the one to move Gregor Townsend into the hot-seat at Glasgow, Robinson has a plan and he should be allowed to see the next phase through.
But there will be voices baying for his head on a pointy stick outside Murrayfield, and results in the summer will need to show something tangible. Given the likelihood of finding the summer tour matches on TV is slim (UK broadcasters’ interest in Scottish rugby is minimal) the only thing most people will know of the games is the score. Winning is now crucial.
With a new coaching team in place as of now and plenty of youngsters battering on the door should any more of the older generation decide they have had enough, luckily for Scotland the only way should be up.
Follow Rory Baldwin on Twitter @ScotRugbyBlog