Not for the first time, Scott Johnson has been entrusted with the caretaking duties as a national head coach. The Scottish Rugby Union confirmed yesterday that the 50-year-old Australian had been promoted from attack coach to interim head coach of Scotland for next year's Six Nations Championship and the end-of-season tour to South Africa.
That amounts to a six-month audition for the role of permanent successor to Andy Robinson, who fell on his sword in the wake of Scotland's stunning 21-15 defeat against Tonga in Aberdeen last month. Johnson can only hope he fares better than he did after holding the reins as Wales' head coach following the resignation of Mike Ruddock in 2006. The native Sydneysider failed to register a win, presiding over two defeats and a draw, before making way for Gareth Jenkins.
Having joined the Scotland staff as Robinson's lieutenant last May, Johnson was always the front runner to step into the shoes of the former England head coach, who suffered Six Nations and autumn whitewashes this year, either side of three summer successes – a run of form that has taken the Scots down to 12th in the world rankings. Sean Lineen was another possible contender but confirmation last week of the former Scotland centre's role as coach to the national Under-20 side for 2013 was a strong indication that Johnson would be in charge for the Six Nations at least.
Mark Dodson, the chief executive officer of Scottish Rugby, said: "Scott has a wealth of experience of international rugby, which was instrumental in his appointment earlier this year as our senior assistant coach. He has coached with Australia, Wales and the USA and knows what it is to prepare teams to win on the international battleground."
Johnson, a former Australia Under-21 fly-half and centre, suffered defeats against Ireland and France and scraped a draw against Italy in his three matches in absolute charge of Wales. As skills coach, however, he played a pivotal part in the Welsh Grand Slam success of 2005. He was on the Welsh coaching staff from 2002 to 2006 and was director of rugby with the Ospreys from 2009 to 2011.
"It's an honour to take charge of the national team for our imminent campaign," Johnson said yesterday. "I will be doing everything I can to bring the best out of our players as we all seek to achieve winning performances."
Johnson's first match in charge of Scotland will be the Six Nations opener away to England on 2 February. Scotland have not won at Twickenham since 1983. Under Robinson, they enjoyed notable victories against the Wallabies (twice) and South Africa but, with their severely limited playing resources, they only won two of 15 games in the past three Six Nations campaigns. Last year in New Zealand they also failed to qualify for the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time.
Ireland, whom Scotland will face in the third week of the Six Nations, were dealt a blow yesterday with the news that wing Tommy Bowe is set to miss entire championship after undergoing knee surgery. Bowe was carried off during Ulster's Heineken Cup home defeat against Northampton last Saturday and in a statement yesterday, his club said that he is "expected to be out for approximately four months."
The 28-year-old, who has scored 26 tries in 51 Tests, should regain full fitness ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia. He was a key member of the 2009 Lions squad and would be among the leading candidates to make Warren Gatland's squad this time.