Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby Six Nations

Scott Johnson aims to silence the critics and sign off in real style

By Michael Sadlier

It's hard to gauge just where Scotland are in terms of whether they are indeed reviving, just treading water or about to plunge into another dark age.

Yes, things have certainly been worse for them but, not for the first time, there is a bit of an issue surrounding the man in charge of the national team.

Scott Johnson is on one of those awkward looking long goodbyes as head coach, or rather interim coach as the job title morphed into since the affable Australian took over from Andy Robinson after the wreckage that was autumn 2012.

This is Johnson's second and final Six Nations as he prepares to move upstairs as director of rugby after handing over the coaching baton to Clermont's Vern Cotter at the season's end – Cotter was appointed last summer, but is seeing out this season in France.

So, Johnson is still going to be around and his relationship with Cotter – who will have waited for just about a year before taking charge – will be absolutely critical if Scotland are going to somehow lift themselves from what has been a mire of underachievement.

And this less than ideal handover – when a new coach is appointed its preferable if he is able to take charge reasonably quickly – just might prove rather more distracting than anyone is prepared to admit.

Then again, since when have matters surrounding the national team looked anything other than assured?

Maybe, but in fairness to Johnson, he did deliver a surprise third place finish for the Scots in last season's Six Nations which was achieved with only two wins, over a misfiring Ireland and a dire Italy.

Last autumn was hardly uplifting with their 28-0 defeat to South Africa asking searching questions of just where the national side are heading with the usual flawed game-plan, lack of quality home-based players and too many squad members plying their trade outside the country all being given an airing.

All that, of course, can be set to the side again if Scotland can deliver a surprise result tomorrow.

And Johnson has made no secret of his aim, having picked a pack to, in his words, "go to the dark places" to gain control over Ireland.

Always quotable, Johnson answered the criticism that he promises much but delivers little by saying: "The jam will come because I'll concentrate on the things that we can control, but I'll give you a really good sandwich at the end."

With only two home games, against England and France, it will certainly be challenging if Johnson is to make good his culinary pledge.

Skipper Kelly Brown was typically less colourful and instead focused on the side's fundamental need to bank a result ahead of the England game six days later. "We finished third last year which was great but we have to keep on improving and that's the challenge we must face," said Brown.

"We must nail down a level of consistency and we're looking to do that and produce a high level of performance."

There's no doubting that Scotland have the artillery up front with Jim Hamilton – and Richie Gray on the bench – along with a powerful looking back row of Ryan Wilson, Brown and David Denton.

In the backline Duncan Weir has got the nod at stand-off with Johnson hinting that his tactical kicking game will be key to Scotland's approach while scrum-half Greig Laidlaw remains a vital weapon in their armoury. The back three of Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland and Sean Lamont offers much, the selection of Duncan Taylor and Alex Dunbar in midfield seems to indicate that the Scots are going to play a low risk game in Dublin.

You wonder if Scotland could really do with Cotter right now.

Belfast Telegraph

How to Complain

If you have a complaint about the editorial content of the Belfast Telegraph or Sunday Life then contact the Editor here. If you are not satisfied with the response provided then you can contact the Independent Press Standards Organisation here

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph