Six Nations: Heart where home is for Scotland's newest saviour Scott Johnson
He spent five years in the Welsh set-up before succeeding Andy Robinson but he insists there will be no split loyalties at Murrayfield
Tuesday 05 March 2013
Before Scott Johnson had a chance to settle into his seat at Murrayfield to tackle the subject of his looming collision with the land where he made his rugby name in the northern hemisphere, the Scotland interim head coach and one-time Wales number two was given a not-so-gentle reminder of his actual roots. "Hey, what about your cricket team overnight?" someone ventured, referring to Australia's second-innings capitulation to India in Hyderabad.
"Hold on! Hold on!" Johnson exclaimed. "Before we go any further, can I just say this: for the past 25 years no-one in the UK has spoken to me about cricket. Now, all of a sudden, everyone's an expert… See, the difference is we don't give MBEs out for 19 runs in a series. We don't do any of that sort of stuff."
For the past 10 months, since leaving the role of director of coaching at the Ospreys, the native Sydney-sider has been bringing his spiky barbs and his maverick motivational skills to bear as an adopted Scot – initially as attack coach and, since December, as a temporary replacement for Andy Robinson as Scotland head coach. For five years, though, Scott was at the heart of the Welsh team – as a lieutenant to Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Mike Ruddock and as an interim head coach for three matches.
It was in the aftermath of Ruddock's sudden departure in the midst of the 2006 Six Nations that Johnson, whose influence had been stamped all over the Welsh Grand Slammers of 2005, took the temporary reins. He lasted three matches – defeats against Ireland and France and an embarrassing draw with Italy – before making way for Gareth Jenkins and returning home to join the Wallabies' team.
Three games into his interim tenure with the Scots, the 50-year-old has a loss to England at Twickenham and successive home wins against Italy and Ireland on the board ahead of Wales' visit to Murrayfield on Saturday. "Look, these are different circumstances here," Johnson said, when asked to compare his two spells as a stand-in head honcho. "It was different with Wales. It wasn't a great period of rugby. I did it because it was the last throw of the dice.
"Let's get one thing straight: Wales have been absolutely fantastic to me. I loved every minute there: the good, the bad, the ugly. I had it all.
"I had great times and made great friends, so I am indebted to Wales as a society. I really am. They're great people and it was a privilege to be part of it. But I'm coaching someone else now. And this isn't about me; I keep saying that. I am privileged enough to enjoy the hour before and hour after the game, when I see the players I coach every week. My blood is bleeding blue; that's it."
There would be no jibe at the expense of the Welsh, then – none of the verbal jousting of which Johnson has become so fond in the big-match build up. The respect for Welsh rugby clearly runs too deep for that.
It is fair to say that respect for Johnson is starting to deepen in Caledonian rugby, to the extent that many in and around the game would like to see the man who guided Scotland to back-to-back wins in the Six Nations for the first time since 2001 handed the reins on a more permanent basis. Victory against Wales on Saturday would be the first hat-trick of successes since the 1996 championship.
As things stand, Johnson is filling the breach up to and including the summer tour to South Africa. Asked if he fancied "hanging around longer," he played another straight bat defensive stroke. "I keep saying that we'll discuss this afterwards," he said. "I know you'll find that hard to believe but it's true – and I've said it from day one. I'm not even discussing it until afterwards, with the appropriate people.
"The decision will be part mine and part somebody else's as well. I'm enjoying the job. But I would enjoy coaching the under-eights somewhere else.
"I just happen to be coaching a national team with passionate young kids. That's pretty special."
The feeling is clearly mutual. After Johnson announced a starting XV with just two changes – one Celtic youth team footballer Duncan Weir coming in at stand-off and Euan Murray at tighthead prop – winger Tim Visser was asked whether the players wanted him to be permanently installed as head coach.
"Definitely," Visser replied, without hesitation. "We want him to stay on. He's brilliant. He approaches things with a bit of humour but when he wants to get things over that are very important then we'll know about it.
"He has created an atmosphere of enjoyment. He's kind of bringing the joy back into the game for us as well. I don't get everything he says because of his accent, but I do love being coached by him."
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