Little more than an hour after Saturday's defeat by Tonga, the following message from a former Scotland internationalist had appeared in my email inbox.

"Gee, if only there was a proven pro team coach who is not in a coaching role to replace Robinson – karma!!"

It may not have been the most carefully worded missive in history but, some 16 hours before it became public knowledge that Andy Robinson was leaving his post as Scotland's head coach, it cut directly to the main issue of the day. What happens next and how can the damage of the past year and more be undone?

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Rightly or wrongly, Robinson was seen by most as being heavily implicated in the events that ended the honeymoon period for Mark Dodson, the Scottish Rugby Union's chief executive, earlier this year: the episode in which Sean Lineen was replaced as Glasgow Warriors head coach by Gregor Townsend.

Dodson had himself replaced an unpopular figure in the sport and made what he described as a lot of easy fixes to generate goodwill in those early months in charge. Then, horribly advised, he made the error of judgment that meant goodwill towards him dissolved.

Scotland had just endured their worst World Cup campaign. Hopelessly unable to score points, they were on their way to being "whitewashed" in the Six Nations Championship, or its Five Nations predecessor, for only the second time in 27 years.

It was impossible not to look for all sorts of agendas being at play when the rugby nation was distracted from defeat by Ireland with the news that the head coach who had won more competitive matches than any other in the history of the Scottish professional game was the man to pay the price for this mess.

Relatively new in his job, Dodson can perhaps be forgiven for relying too much on the advice of the rugby specialists on his staff.

Their decision to provide more experienced support for one of the highest-paid coaches in the European game, while offering promotion to the attack coach whose methods had failed to produce a try in 18 of the 34 international matches for which he had that responsibility, was as incomprehensible as it was unjustifiable.

That Townsend's Glasgow Warriors failed, on Friday, to score a point in losing to a Leinster side that was supplying several players to the Ireland squad – including five of the six front-five forwards who were to confront Argentina the next day – was as much of a commentary on that decision as Scotland's abject showing against Tonga the following day.

Dodson has given the impression of wanting to be seen as a boardroom bruiser capable of making big decisions, wholly unnecessarily back in March and, now when it was really necessary, this time around.

That involves getting back to the absolute fundamentals of what Scottish rugby is about, which is to produce the best national teams possible and to ensure that the maximum number of people in the country are exposed to and involved in the sport.

It is vital that there is a full and frank review of what has brought us to this point and the time taken to come up with the right solutions this time.

The issues they must address are:


Scottish rugby learned nothing at all from the experience of Ireland four years earlier when, presumably under some intelligently applied negotiating pressure, its officials agreed to give Andy Robinson a four-year contract ahead of last year's World Cup.

The coach himself then panicked when, one match after appointing Al Kellock as his World Cup captain, he effectively sacked him because of the team's poor display in beating Romania, replacing his leadership ability with a player whose only real attribute is bulk.

The psychology of that was interesting given that Robinson is a relatively small man who had to scrap for everything in the lumbering world of English elite rugby, but the impression that he panicked is hard to escape.

Thereafter, it has felt like a constant thrashing around looking for something magical that will fix things. The ill-advised attempt to introduce Steve Shingler; the rushing of Stuart Hogg into the Test arena; the appalling coaching reshuffle; the recruitment of a controversial figure as his assistant coach; and, finally, the pressing of his son's former England team-mate into action. All of those smacked of decision-making on the hoof and the odd moment of encouragement, such as Hogg's early appearances on the Test scene, was more a symptom of the random nature of the decision-making rather than evidence of progress.

Hogg is also one of several who seem to have become less effective the longer they have been involved with Scotland's coaches.

In that light and, that of the belief that Robinson is a great coach but a poor manager, the observation of one HR specialist yesterday seems relevant.

"Spontaneity coached out of them," read his text to me. "Great leaders design systems around available players. Great coaches focus on minutiae and technique. Andy's a great forwards coach."


Robinson has paid the price, but a substantial role appears to have been played by Graham Lowe, the director of performance who was unusually visible on the sidelines at Pittodrie on Saturday – perhaps in anticipation of an easy win – but has wisely opted to take another job as far removed from Scottish rugby as possible in Australian Rules football.

How much input he had into Robinson receiving his lucrative, new contract which made him one of the highest-paid coaches in Europe, if not the highest, is not clear. However, he made one of his very few public appearances with an unimpressive performance the day the coaching coup, in which Gregor Townsend was shunted to Glasgow and Sean Lineen to Murrayfield, was announced.

Even so, the main responsibility must lie with Dodson as the man at the top of the organisation and, since he is now the only one of those three main decision-makers in office, it is his job to put it right, in conjunction with Moir Lockheed, the chairman who was apparently briefing people last week on how Scotland were going to win the 2015 World Cup.


Dodson can undo a huge amount of the damage he did to himself and his organisation's reputation by turning to the man whose relegation to the sidelines was the most obvious example of the SRU having lost its way this year.

Sean Lineen has won more matches as a professional coach than any other in Scotland and stands alone in having taken his teams to the knockout stages of three competitions: the European Challenge Cup in 2006/07 and the domestic league play-offs in both 2009/10 and 2011/12.

He did that with one of the least well-resourced clubs in Europe and managed to complete the last of those campaigns in spite of being undermined at a crucial stage when the coaching reshuffle was announced.

A model of professionalism, Lineen has simply got on with his new job and largely seems to be enjoying the more relaxed nature of it. That notwithstanding, the man we call the original Kilted Kiwi cares passionately about his adopted country and will surely respond to the call that should be coming. In the short term at least, what is required is someone who knows the Scottish rugby scene intimately, its strengths and its weaknesses, in order to shore things up but also has enough understanding of the world game to place that in a wider context.

Asking him to lead Scotland through the Six Nations Championship, perhaps initially on a caretaker basis as England did with Stuart Lancaster last year, would give him a chance to show whether he can do that at least, by keeping a limited group of players competitive.

He may or may not be the right man beyond that, but this would allow the SRU to find out about one candidate who can do no worse than has happened in the past year, while avoiding wasting further money as they seek to address the bigger problems.

Admittedly, Dodson will not like having to make that decision but he has also told me he is man enough to admit when he has been wrong. If he can bring himself to approach Lineen, the one man in this emergency who has the track record, knowledge of the domestic game and popularity to have a chance of pulling things together, he will go a long way towards proving that to be true.


This is a huge issue because the question itself has become as institutionalised as some of those employed to address it.

For far too many years, Scottish rugby has, like Scottish sport as a whole, been dictated to by groups of administrators who believe they know better than everyone else and sit in meetings reinforcing one another's views while failing to address the fundamentals.

In the wider arena, it has produced a situation that has resulted in Scottish sporting success being dominated by those born into privilege either because their parents are heavily involved in the sport they choose to pursue, or because they went to a particular school.

That is to take nothing away from those like Andy Murray, Chris Hoy or Kath Grainger, whose achievements have been all the more spectacular because they defy the feeble sporting culture that surrounds them.

However, the true measure is what we see in team sports where a critical mass of talent must be accumulated for Scots to be competitive.

The failings of the international football team have been the most consistent example.

In football, which Scots once treated the way New Zealanders treat rugby, our national team has tumbled down the rankings.

However, nothing has ever made the point more strikingly than the way an almost infinitely better resourced and prepared team from a country of five million people was taken apart by one representing 104,000 people at Pittodrie on Saturday.

A long-term plan must be drawn up which involves stopping the hideous waste of money spent on tier upon tier of administrators and ineffective development programmes and diverting it directly into schools where sport – all sport – should be made available to all our youngsters.