On a prayer: Andy Robinson's battered squad will face the All Blacks on November 11th

by Alan Dymock

WE HAVE all seen Field of Dreams, right? An Iowa farmer takes a mower to his cornfields so he can carve out a baseball diamond.  The voices in his head tell him “If you build it, they will come.”

Looking beyond the obvious questions of mental health and the supposed electricial skills of a floodlight-erecting farmer, it is a story of hope. Dreams can come true and people will turn up if you close your eyes and believe hard enough.

Right now Andy Robinson is sitting at a desk overlooking the Murrayfield turf, squeezing his eyes shut and believing like no one has ever believed before. The All Blacks are coming and Scotland are having to rely on a few dreams of their own.

On Wednesday October 24 a squad of 36 Scots was unveiled to take on the might of the All Blacks as they cut a swathe through the northern hemisphere. Within the list were a light contingent of props, some seven new names and an awful lot of sticky back plaster.

Tim Visser, Allan Jacobsen, Greig Laidlaw and Sean Lamont are all in the squad because they’re indispensible. All of them are carrying knocks of some kind, but without their quality Scotland must severely change their gameplan. Without them Scotland’s talent pool is shallower than Girls Aloud’s new ditty.

Of course, it is a grand showing that youngsters like Grant Gilchrist, Stuart McInally and Peter Horne see their good form rewarded with call-ups. However, the lack of props and game changing backs is a familiar concern.

Tommy Seymour comes in after professional showings on the wing for Glasgow, but looks unlikely to feature. Meanwhile, without Duncan Weir, Ruaridh Jackson earns a recall.

Jackson is a metaphor for the whole Scottish system. To be clear, he is a good player who has looked comfortable in the last few weeks when he has backed himself to gallop and has thrown the ball around with confidence. Yet a month ago, he played for Ayr in Scotland’s RBS Premiership, the top amateur level.

Although his playing for an amateur side actually shows the quality of the club game and the variety of styles available to young players, he has possibly gone from amateur ranks to facing the World’s best rugby team in the turn of a calendar page.

If you play four professional games in Scotland, you are in consideration for the national team.

This does not have to be the case, and with many youngsters like Stuart Hogg, Matt Scott, David Denton, and several others coming on by creeps and leaps things may improve by 2015.

The lack of props is worry, though. Mike Cusack and WP Nel cannot naturalise quick enough. If they could sit their Scottish entrance Exam now, they would. The clock is ticking for others. Josh Strauss qualifies for Scotland mere days before World Cup 2015 kicks off.

One import has grabbed headlines right away was Kiwi speedster Sean Maitland, who signed for Glasgow Warriors this week. He will be instantly eligible for inclusion, thanks to some West Coast grannies and could, in no time, be the perfect foil to that oversized try machine Tim Visser. With line-breaker par excellence Stuart Hogg in at No 15, next year they could form the most exciting Scottish back three in many a year.

Injuries and shortages have meant that Robinson has almost sold the farm already. Held together by medical supplies and haunted by the ghosts of the last fortnight’s Heineken Cup results, this Scotland squad have a tough task convincing everyone else that they can compete with the All Blacks.

Can Robinson and an already bruised squad go the distance, or will it be a case of closing those eyes and waiting for it all to be over?

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