Scotland in flux as Johnson strives to stop the bleeding
Scotlands Tim Visser tries to break through the Tonga defence during the November Test clash at Pittodrie in Aberdeen which the visitors won 21-15. photograph: ian mac nicol/ afp/getty
Three defeats in November and a very poor recent Six Nations record show the scale of the coach’s task
To say Scotland are in the doldrums is, given their recent past, to seriously understate a calamitous autumn. A November of dark days, dejection and three defeats, including to Tonga, culminating in the resignation of coach Andy Robinson and the installation of Scott Johnson as interim head honcho all adds up to a team in more flux than they care to admit.
Former Ospreys coach Johnson has the Six Nations to prove himself, which can be seen as pressure or a welcome opportunity on a clean canvas and the chance to put shape on a team that could pick up the wooden spoon if things continue in the same vein. Working from a base point of humiliation it’s difficult to see Johnson allowing them to fall backwards any further.
The 50-year-old Australian, who is also in charge for the summer tour, recently irked England when he scoffed at their wheedling over the spate of six injuries to front liners. But Johnson has had to deal with Ross Rennie, Chris Cusiter, John Barclay, Nick de Luca and Rory Lamont in sick bay. Given the sharply ironic exchange, it might have been the canny Aussie’s first shot in the game of minds as the Scots prepare to for Twickenham in their first outing.
“I don’t think selection going into the Scotland game is as simplistic as people perhaps think, on the back of the All Blacks game. We’ve got a lot of decisions to make,” said England coach Stuart Lancaster, to which Johnson, dripping with sarcasm, responded.
“That’s a sad story. Long injury list... am I getting emotional? That just leaves you with about another 40,000 players to pick from. We don’t have any injuries at all up where we are. No, no. We don’t get them. Never, never.”
Scotland are in a hole alright yet they do have several fine contenders for Lions spots this summer including back-row David Denton, lock Richie Gray, Greig Laidlaw and wing Tim Visser, to name but a few.
The uncapped Kiwi Sean Maitland remains with Johnson having to defend his selection. Maitland, who has a Scottish grandfather and uncle, has played at Twickenham before, scoring twice for the Crusaders when the Christchurch side played Super Rugby there. Were he to play it would give Scotland pace on both wings, possibly alongside Dutch-born Visser from Zeewolde, Flevoland, who qualified for Scotland by residence in the summer.
Kelly Brown, who captained Scotland in the autumn, gets the captaincy against England, but the Saracens backrow may not be always guaranteed his place and that could cause further change. But Johnson is gung-ho for the London encounter. Despite it being a fixture they haven’t won since 1983 he’s so competitive and wants to win that in his current state of mind he would “wrestle you for marbles”.