• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Robinson seeks to establish a big advantage

It used to be claimed that rugby was a game for all shapes and sizes but Andy Robinson once again very predictably made his preference for big men clear yesterday when he named his team to meet South Africa at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Ross Ford remains in the starting XV in order to offer the physical presence that Andy Robinson believes can be turned to Scotland's advantage against the Springboks on Saturday. Pctures: David Cheskin/PA
Ross Ford remains in the starting XV in order to offer the physical presence that Andy Robinson believes can be turned to Scotland's advantage against the Springboks on Saturday. Pctures: David Cheskin/PA

The head coach, who was widely thought to have been victimised by England's selectors in his playing days because he was a small flanker, has, at times, seemed almost obsessed by the desire to fill jerseys with the tallest, heaviest men available to him. As far as Saturday's opponents are concerned, however, that approach is eminently justifiable.

Consequently, the extra three stones plus he has introduced by recalling Euan Murray and Dave Denton to the starting XV has the potential to offer Scotland a psychological advantage against men who come from a culture that values the capacity to outweigh and outmuscle opponents more than any other. The additional poundage they provide as compared with the men they are replacing, Geoff Cross and the injured Ross Rennie, along with the retention of Jim Hamilton, who is more than a stone heavier than Al Kellock, completely accounts for the weight advantage Scotland boast.

If they can therefore match the Springboks' technically, they will have the upper hand in the main combat zones.

There were other options that could have widened the range of Scotland's playing options with Cross, Kellock and John Barclay offering more speed around the pitch, but Robinson always seemed likely to resort to the big is beautiful philosophy this time around.

"I thought David Denton carried hugely well at the weekend when he came on," he said. "[Al] Strokosch and [Kelly] Brown I thought had very good performances in terms of the physicality they brought to the game. Looking at the opposition we're playing against, I thought it was right to keep that back row together. John Barclay comes on to the bench having trained tremendously well and he'll be an asset off the bench.

"I was hugely pleased with Geoff Cross's performance and seeing the improvements that he's making (but) I still believe Euan Murray is our best tight-head prop. He played well in the summer and he's been playing well at Agen.

"Geoff will get an opportunity this weekend but Euan is our best scrummager in a battle that I think is going to be a mighty one this weekend in taking on [Gurthro] Steenkamp."

Elsewhere, he admitted that Ross Ford, by a full two stones the heaviest of the three contenders for the No.2 jersey, is under pressure after a mixed performance against the All Blacks but said he is showing faith in the long-established first-choice hooker.

"I'm giving Ross Ford an opportunity as captain of Scotland in the previous three games and as a player I hugely respect to show what he can do," Robinson explained.

"Where Ross was good last week was in his carrying and the physicality he brought to the contact area. Where he was disappointing was in his defence and on a couple of throws.

"He's got to be able to step up his game and performance."

Having set up a Scotland team that beat the Springboks a week after they were hammered by the All Blacks two years ago on his only previous meeting with the South Africans as Scotland's head coach, Robinson believes he knows what is required this week and is seeing the right things in the way they are preparing.

"The way we've trained and played on Tuesday and today, the intensity that we showed, the application to the way we want to play the game, yes. Obviously you have to do that when the hits are going in, when those huge collisions are there and, if there's one team you've got to be able to stand up against, because it won't be a place for the faint-hearted, it's South Africa.

"They do come route one. They are prepared to run right over you . . . through you. They have an incredible maul, probably the best maul in world rugby. They got back into the game against Ireland with the maul and the power of that maul. So it will be a great battle in terms of the lineout and our ability to contest South Africa's ball, but also not allow them to establish mauls."

That area is clearly being targeted by this imposing-looking Scottish side, whose backs are also slightly heavier overall than their opponents.

"When you look at teams that play Ireland and are 12-3 down, not many teams win that match," Robinson said of the Springboks' comeback win in Dublin. "That shows how much this South African team has improved. The manner of how they won that game is important; they won it through their kicking game and their ability to contest, but most importantly, they won it through their maul. We've got to be able to stop them establishing any mauls."

The absence from the squad 23 of Allan Jacobsen apart (see adjacent panel), there was one slight surprise on the bench where Peter Murchie's inclusion means that, remarkably, this may be the 10th successive match this year in which Robinson – generally considered better at coaching than selection – has introduced a new cap.

At 6ft 3in and a pound shy of 15 stones, he is, of course, taller and heavier than Max Evans, the man he replaces.

Maybe not that surprising after all then!

Contextual targeting label: 
retail

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

125650