SCOTLAND’S interim coach Scott Johnson today refused to wade into the arrogance row that has preceded today’s RBS 6 Nations opener with England, but acknowledged that if Stuart Lancaster’s men are cocksure, then they are so with good reason.
Former Scotland boss Jim Telfer this week said the Red Rose were arrogant, pretentious and condescending, suggesting that a number of their players had let last year’s win over New Zealand go to their heads.
Lancaster shut those comments down yesterday, saying it was a criticism that could have been levelled at teams of the past but not the present, while Johnson did his best to stay on the periphery of a cross-border row.
He conceded, though, that any confidence England had was justified after their record 38-21 victory over the All Blacks at Twickenham, the scene of today’s Calcutta Cup tie.
“It becomes arrogant if you can’t complete the deed. If you’re going to talk the talk you have to walk the walk, that goes for everyone in every form of life,” Johnson said. “We need to be confident but not step over the arrogant line.”
When asked about the fact England may have showboated once victory against New Zealand was secured, the Australian said: “There was plenty of good showboating too. They did the deed, it’s not arrogant for me if you do the deed, they did that, fair play to them.”
As initiations go, tomorrow’s could be easier for Johnson in his first international since replacing Andy Robinson. Scotland have the weight of history against them having not won at Twickenham since 1983, but the 50-year-old has a different way of looking at that.
“Statistics are like a bikini, it shows a lot but not the whole thing and if you go back in time, the stats may be lying. We have a chance to create new history and new stats,” he said.
As a man who has worked for the Australian and Welsh national sides, Johnson is well-versed in what it means to get the better of England and, in a bid to do so today, has recruited someone from behind enemy lines to help him.
Former England forward Dean Ryan has been drafted in to offer Johnson some temporary help, putting his television analysis work to what his boss hopes will be the best possible use.
“He’s been great to have around from a coaching perspective, but as a mate, to have him sitting next to you is even better. I have really enjoyed his company,” Johnson said.
“The reality is he commentates every week and knows the English players and their rugby. The synergy between us has been fantastic. You sit here and talk and realise how much we’re alike in our philosophy. He’s been a great fallback for me and it couldn’t have worked out much better.”
In a bid to make his mark on a side looking to get back on the winning trail following the Tonga loss, Johnson has made six changes to a side last picked by Robinson.
Sean Maitland is the headline inclusion, having spoken of his love of Scottish pies as he makes the transition from junior world champion with New Zealand to a fully-fledged Scotland international.
According to the coach, though, whoever plays will do just fine so long as they take their opportunities.
“We have a spine of quality athletes who can get up field,” he said.
“You get seven chances to score during a game and we have to make sure we make and take them.”
Parallels have been drawn between Johnson and Lancaster as a year ago the latter was also an interim coach making his way towards a permanent position.
However Johnson is adamant that the situations are not similar and is not willing to say whether or not he wants the job full-time.
“It’s a great honour, I can’t deny that, but it’s not about me, it’s about a country I represent,” he said.
“In 20 years I can say what a wonderful time it was but I will review this situation later. This is the right thing for the right time. What’s best for Scotland could be with me, it could not be.”