Robinson starts as director of rugby at Championship outfit Bristol on March 1 – a job he describes as “a great opportunity at a club with real ambition”.
But he still has regrets over being unable to lead Scotland to greater success during his three years in charge.
“Life takes you on journeys and I really enjoyed my time with Edinburgh and Scotland, but there were only so many times I could talk to the supporters, the board and the players about ‘if onlys’,” he told The Rugby Paper.
“There were some really good performances where it felt like we achieved something special, like beating Australia and South Africa and having a winning tour in Argentina, but we didn’t get Six Nations or World Cup success.
“I guess that’s what counted and when you see supporters and you’re saying: ‘We were nearly there’, that’s what frustrates you and kills you. I have passion and belief but I reached the point when it was the right time to move on.
“I’ve got huge respect for the people of Scotland – players, management and supporters – and I tried to achieve things. But I was disappointed we didn’t achieve what we wanted. It was so close, but that’s sport. You want to push yourself and compete against the best. But it’s about being open and honest, too, and if it isn’t working you move on and look for the next task.” Robinson’s next task is to transform the sleeping giant that is Bristol Rugby into a team fit to compete in the Premiership and Heineken Cup.
Owner Steve Lansdown believes Bristol can challenge strongly in Europe, and Robinson relishes the task of realising that bold ambition.
“Isn’t it great that you’ve got people like Steve Lansdown and chairman Chris Booy that are ambitious and want to achieve serious goals,” Robinson, 48, said. “I’ve been given a great opportunity at a club with real ambition. If you look at where Bristol was in the 1960s and 70s and what it achieved then, to where it was six years ago, third in the Premiership, it can be successful again.
“It’s about creating some real foundations. I love what Rob Baxter’s done at Exeter and how Harlequins have got back in the Premiership and done well. They have built strong foundations and are models we want to recreate.
“If you look at Bristol as a rugby-playing city, there are so many players. There are some fantastic rugby-playing schools here and there’s a great supporter base. Yes it’s about results, but if we work hard I believe we can achieve some good things.”
As forwards coach with England between 2000 and 2004, Robinson helped Sir Clive Woodward bring home the Rugby World Cup in 2003.
He was given a hospital pass in 2004, though, when Woodward resigned suddenly and Robinson was plunged into the top job at a time of transition. Two years later, having been denied proper managerial back-up and with no player release deal then in place, he was ruthlessly axed.
So does Robinson feel any jealousy towards current England boss Stuart Lancaster, who is benefitting from a new club and country deal? “Not at all,” Robinson insists. “You go into it with your eyes open. I had six great years with England and was involved in winning a World Cup. It’s great for Stuart and getting the success he’s worked hard for. England are in a good position and their progress is based on good discipline and a good understanding between players.
“Stuart’s come in and created his own culture, which is brilliant for him and you have to take your hat off to what he’s doing with England.” Given his equally abrupt departure from Scotland, was he tempted to go back to his old job as a maths teacher?
“How could I?” he asks. “Part of my driving force is my desire to inspire people to be the best they can be. That’s why I was once a school teacher, because I love working with kids.
“That’s what I wake up in the morning wanting to do and that’s my passion, so to come to Bristol and work with players, to challenge and inspire them, is something that drives me.”
Robinson refuses to rule out a return to international rugby one day, but having signed a four year-deal with Bristol, he added: “I never map my journey. My desire is to be successful with Bristol and I signed a four-year contract to highlight my commitment.
“We’re in the Championship so there’s obviously work to do, but to come here is very exciting and I’m looking forward to getting stuck-in.”
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