As SCOTLAND rugby bosses prepare to introduce new forwards coach Dean Ryan at Murrayfield later today, those who know the ex-No.8 best are eager to offer an endorsement of the appointment.
One of the first to speak on the telephone with Ryan when his role was made public last Friday was George Graham, the 25-cap Scotland prop now coaching Gala but a team-mate of Ryan’s when Newcastle Falcons won the English Premiership in 1998.
The pair have much more in common as former serving soldiers who lined up together in Combined Services teams, as well as being adversaries at age-group rugby level.
“It was always the ambition of Dean and myself to face each other at full international level and it looked as if it was going to happen until I tore a hamstring two days before a Calcutta Cup match,” revealed Graham.
“I was really pleased when I heard Dean was getting a job with Scotland. He is a top-notch coach, who, a couple of years ago, was in the running for the England job until – for whatever reason – he never got it. Dean will bring a steeliness as well as being very technical and well drilled.
“What the national team will find is that he does not suffer fools gladly. He is very hard nosed. Dean will let you know – and it doesn’t matter how many caps you have – if you are not pulling your weight.”
The bond between Graham and Ryan is so strong that the former could soon find himself drafted back into the Scotland set-up, having been released from duties towards the end of Frank Hadden’s tenure as head coach.
That’s the view of Gary Armstrong, another ex-Scotland and Newcastle player who says: “My recollection of Dean at Newcastle, where he also coached the forwards, is that he’d never ask you to do anything he wouldn’t do himself.
“There’s a lot of Jim Telfer’s coaching style in Dean. He won’t take any s*** and will say what he thinks.
“I’m really pleased because I think it is part of what Scotland need. I say ‘part’ because there are problems out there such as filling our two professional teams with foreign players so that Scottish qualified players can’t get a game.
“What is the point of that? And there is a glaring need to look at the whole system and introduce a rule where there can’t be two non-Scottish qualified players in the same position.
“A lot of the Scotland players need to be questioning themselves because only they can bring things round, but Dean Ryan is a good appointment who should make a difference.
“Dean knows how it is basically a simple game and, as the All Blacks showed when they were at Murrayfield in the autumn, as long as you have forwards battling for the ball you can cause problems.”
While Ryan is credited with shrewd tactical acumen, not to be underestimated is the passion he will bring.
So says Bryan Redpath, former Scotland captain and scrum half who worked with Ryan at Gloucester where he spent four years in the backroom team before becoming an analyst with Sky Sports.
Redpath said: “He is forward orientated, but he does touch on that emotional, physical element. He knows that is fundamental and that you have to have that, but he will add passion and that is what Scotland need a lot. He will know when to keep that passionate element and when to play a percentage game.”
Of course, there have been critics who claim with justification that opportunities for home-based coaches in the professional game are being restricted, but Doddie Weir, another of the Tartan Tynesiders who played alongside Ryan, believes their chance will come.
He said: “I think there are good guys coming through, but it is not their time yet.
“Rob Andrew [former Newcastle coach and ex-England stand off] once said to me that you only have one chance to coach your country so it would be a mistake to throw the guys we have in too early.
On Ryan’s appointment, Weir said: “He wasn’t one of the names I had thought of when thinking about who might get the job of coaching the [Scotland] forwards, but the more I think about it the more I believe he is just the man we need.
“He has a military background and is a strict disciplinarian which is exactly what we need. I don’t think I am the only person who has watched recent Scotland performances and just wanted to see us go back to basics.
“We have to be realistic: a nation our size is always going to struggle to win more matches than it loses, but, in the past, we have over-achieved because of our pride and passion.
“I now see those characterised in the teams we are playing against, but not so much in our own guys. I think Dean will bring that back to the Scotland set-up.
“He is an honest guy who talks well and values toughness in his players above anything else. That’s what every Scotland supporter wants to believe their team is all about.”
Former Scotland prop Norrie Rowan saw that toughness first-hand when lining up alongside a young Ryan for a select side against the touring New Zealand Maori in Spain.
“On our side was Dean with his military background and leading the Maori was Wayne Shelford who had been in New Zealand’s Special Boat Services.
“They spent the whole game trying to prove who was the stronger and sometimes it got ugly,” recalled Rowan.
Meanwhile, George Graham admits there is an irony about a four-times capped England player being involved in taking the team to Twickenham for the opening round of the RBS Six Nations on February 2: “If you’d told me that would happen even a few years ago I’d have laughed, but it is now part of the professional game.”