With Ireland due at Murrayfield in nine days time for the first of Scotland’s two World Cup warm-up matches -- Italy will follow a fortnight later -- the race for places on the plane to New Zealand is hotting up. And Robinson, for one, is perfectly happy if that competition becomes intense.
“I’d encourage that,” said Robinson, with his trademark menacing grin. “You’d rather have it wouldn’t you? As long as it’s left on the training pitch you’re happy.
“Rugby is a physical game and you’ve got to have discipline in the way that you play. With that level of competition and the physical element of the game sometimes it will spill over, and it’s how you’re able to deal with that which matters.
“We started our first full-on contact this week and it has been pretty physical. There are some sore bodies which is what you’d expect when you’re training full-on, but the level of competition is right up there so I’m really pleased with how the players are working.”
The most fascinating battle for places, and the greatest amount of speculation, centres on the scrum-half berth. Robinson has four candidates in his squad, and is obliged to drop one before naming his final 30-strong World Cup squad on August 22. Until recently, the pecking order has seen Mike Blair, Chris Cusiter and Rory Lawson swop around, but the versatility shown by Edinburgh’s Greig Laidlaw in a handful of matches at stand-off last season has muddied the waters considerably.
Greig Oliver, the former Hawick and Scotland scrum-half who is now a specialist half-back coach at Munster, has now been drafted into the Scotland backroom team to hone a few skills and provide the expert view. “He has come in and done four sessions with the scrum-halves, and all of them have benefited from that,” Robinson said.
“There’s plenty of time still to go before the announcement of the squad, so don’t get too fixated on what the selections are going to be. Let’s look forward to next week, the Ireland game and the Italy game.
“There are a lot of training and coaching sessions and weights sessions to take place. I’ve told the boys just to look for each day, enjoy the work they’re putting in and keep looking to improve.”
Four years ago, Frank Hadden, Scotland coach at the time, centred his World Cup preparation efforts on physical conditioning, and specifically on adding muscle to his players. The criticism then was that skills had been neglected, so Robinson’s approach has been more of a mixed bag, although he pointed out that rugby’s changing dynamics had driven his thinking.
“We’re pleased with our preparation,” he said. “We’ve got to look at ourselves. The players are looking forward to playing in a full-on Test match against Ireland and, two weeks later, against Italy. They want to get out and play.
“There will be more play from turnover ball this year. We went down the route a few years ago of the attacking side keeping the ball like basketball, which became a little bit frustrating, but now every area is contested and that’s what you want.
“It’s great now that there are lots of turnovers. You have to be very good to keep hold of the ball and we saw that last year when we conceded eight tries from turnover ball.”
Echoing the tone of humility that Murrayfield officials have seemed anxious to strike since the departure of former chief executive Gordon McKie a few weeks ago, Robinson also paid tribute to players’ families and other volunteers whose efforts in support of the game will be recognised at the Ireland match, when 120 people, nominated by their clubs, will take to the field to unveil a giant Scotland shirt, an event dubbed ‘Fabric of the Nation’ by sponsors RBS.
“One of our key values as a squad is our desire to inspire the nation,” said Robinson. “Every player who is privileged to represent Scotland knows they have had to make sacrifices along the way to achieving their goal.
“But sacrifices are made by other people, too. Every player in the Scotland team owes a debt of gratitude to many people in the rugby community.”