I HAD no idea how difficult it would be for Andy Robinson, Scotland’s head coach, to choose a final 30 players from a squad of 38 until I sat down and tried to do it myself.
So when he does make his final decision on Monday after Saturday’s Italian game has been played at Murrayfield, he will have my full admiration, because it is a thankless task, and, for him, a gut-wrenching one when he has to break the bad news to eight players whose dream he is going to take away in a matter of seconds.
Any Apprentice or X Factor followers will have some kind of idea of the effects of these life-changing decisions.
Robinson has been plying his trade in Scotland now for several years, working first with the Edinburgh squad (who he turned into one of the best teams in Europe) before becoming the national coach.
He is much more experienced now than when he coached England several seasons ago and he has been a breath of fresh air for Scottish Rugby.
He is totally respected by the players who work for him and the fans appreciate his honesty in trying to bring back good times to this country.
He may not have achieved the results that we all want for Scotland yet, but even on the rugby forums, which attract the most outspoken critics of the game north of the border (many of whom love to spurt their outrageous drivel under the cover of anonymity), it is hard to find critics of Robinson’s efforts. His contract runs to after the 2015 World Cup and he fully intends to be head coach of Scotland until then.
OK, so what about clues as to what Andy Robinson is thinking? If we thought it was hard to guess what his predecessor Frank Hadden was thinking, it is well nigh impossible to see into the mind of the current leader.
When he told the media that he would give no clues until he makes his announcement on August 22, he meant it, and anyone who dared try to get any from him were quickly put in their place.
I was asked to pick my 30 if I was in Robinson’s position and I had a go, but it was extremely difficult. I’m doing this prior to the Italian game whereas Andy will of course have the benefit of making his decision after he has seen that match. He has probably got his 30 in his mind already, but events on the pitch on Saturday may swing things, particularly if injuries come into play.
The big issue is surrounding the scrum half position. Everyone expects only three to go, but there are four world-class scrum halves.
Just who will be left out? I think Mike Blair may be the unlucky one because of the long lay-off through injury and lack of game time.
He is expected to play on Saturday and that will be the big test, but he is up against it. Greig Laidlaw surely has done enough.
He is a man on the up and can cover the 10 position as well. He is also a reliable place-kicker. Chris Cusiter has had game time and will probably get the nod over Blair. One other thought which is off the wall is that Robinson could take all four of them at the expense of a centre or winger, but this is an outside bet.
So here we go! Here is the squad I would pick. It’s a 17-13 split in favour of the forwards, and I think Andy Robinson will go for that ratio too. I think Nikki Walker will edge out Simon Danielli as one of the wingers, but while I think he will go with Nick De Luca I would personally pick the impressive Jack Cuthbert who would learn so much for the future on this trip.
I feel he has more to offer Scotland long-term and would give him the chance, although I think he will be one of the unlucky ones left out of Robinson’s 30.
I have seen nothing of the brilliant form John Beattie showed a couple of seasons ago, so I would leave him out in favour of Richie Vernon or David Denton. Denton is coming up on the rails fast, but Vernon would get my vote.
However, Robinson has been very faithful to Beattie and it would not be a surprise if he thought that he would peak at the World Cup.
FULL BACKS/ CENTRES/WINGS
Chris Paterson, Rory Lamont, Jack Cuthbert, Sean Lamont, Max Evans, Joe Ansbro, Nikki Walker, Graeme Morrison
FLY HALVES/SCRUM HALVES
Ruaridh Jackson, Dan Parks, Rory Lawson, Chris Cusiter, Greig Laidlaw
Alasdair Dickinson, Moray Low, Euan Murray, Geoff Cross, Allen Jacobsen
Ross Ford, Dougie Hall, Scott Lawson
Alastair Kellock, Nathan Hines, Richie Gray, Jim Hamilton
Alasdair Strokosch, John Barclay, Richie Vernon, Kelly Brown, Ross Rennie
BACKS LEFT OUT
Nick De Luca, Simon Danielli, Ben Cairns, Mike Blair
FORWARDS LEFT OUT
Johnnie Beattie, David Denton, Rob Harley, Ryan Grant
We only have to wait until Monday to find out how right (or how wrong) my predictions are. It’s going to be a fascinating few days and I’ll be back next Thursday with comments on the 30 who have been chosen.
z Stuart Cameron will be joining the Scotland team, management, supporters and ex-pats in New Zealand for the 2011 World Cup and you can read his Stuart Down Under column every week throughout the tournament in TheSouthern.
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