Rugby: New interim Scotland head coach Johnson focuses on the positives

Interim Scotland head coach Scott Johnson, right, with forwards coach Dean Ryan
Interim Scotland head coach Scott Johnson, right, with forwards coach Dean Ryan
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New head coach Scott Johnson will keep an open mind about selecting elements of an under-achieving Edinburgh outfit who have previously provided the core of Scotland rugby teams until he sees how they perform in pre-Six Nations camps.

Johnson may have declared that a few players “are already pencilled in” to have line-out for the opening visit to England on February 2 but it is also the case that he has to be convinced by the Edinburgh contingent.

Asked how he would lift players who come from a team which has lost five in a row and brought new meaning to the term “mediocre” in the European Cup, Aussie Johnson said: “They have got to understand that they might be contributing somewhat to Edinburgh.

“You can’t paper over the cracks.”

But, at the same time, Johnson cut the Edinburgh contingent some slack, saying: “Some are affected by the work of others, like if you are a winger or full back and you are not getting the ball. All that I care about is kids who are honest with their issues. If they come to the camp honest and prepared to work then belief will grow.”

That was in-keeping with the message put out by the 50-year-old on his first public appearance since stepping up from his attack coach role to succeed Andy Robinson as the main man.

“I come from a country which, without doubt, should not be a good rugby nation,” he said in reference to double World Cup winners Australia.

“They are the greatest over-achievers in world rugby and it is based on a belief that they can do it. Australian rugby has not got the pick of the litter. They have some good players but it is a third sport in a country of 20 million, a third of the size of Great Britain.

“Let’s start here working on what we have got and understanding what we are and stop pretending we want to be something else.

“We have got to get an identity that is important to us, play the way we want to play.

“If we start getting that we will achieve realistic goals.”

According to Johnson, there is an upside to everything and to the suggestion that the opening day might be as good a time as any to visit an England team entering the Six Nations on the back of a win over the All Blacks he insisted: “We are playing where we are. There is a set of positives in everything we do. Too right it is a good time to go there (to Twickenham).

“But if we were playing at home that would be good too. There is no point doing it if it is not enjoyable. I’m not going to Twickenham to be a voyeur and if the team win you won’t hear a peep from me because I am not what it will be about. But I am going there to be a competitor and the players will feel that too.”

Johnson says he wouldn’t have come in cold to the job and values the time spent as Robinson’s No 2.

The situation has enabled him to settle in and form views as well as adjust to Scottish culture.

“The reason I made the decision I did was that I felt it was in the best interests of the team,” he said. “A big part of me living here is that I have to learn and understand a different culture.

“For too long (in Scotland) I have heard the negative – ‘what’s wrong, what’s wrong, what’s wrong’. I’d rather be a problem solver than a problem maker.

“The fact is we only have two professional teams, we don’t have a big player pool and nor have Tonga, Samoa, Italy or a few others.”

Of course, Scotland fans have long been accustomed to hearing their team compared with opponents higher up the rankings and Johnson was quick to offer assurances that skill exists to the extent that an unprecedented three home tries in this season’s Murrayfield meeting with New Zealand could, and should, have been doubled.

“At the end of the day we have ability in this group and up against formidable opposition in New Zealand we had a lot more in that game than three tries,” he said. “I was disappointed we did not score a lot more. We should have had six.”