Scott Johnson: Scotland are the side no one wants to play
We are underdogs, but this is a derby and derby games are different
The Thames was spilling over its banks outside the Scotland team hotel yesterday, the car park flooded. It forced Scott Johnson to take a delayed final training session indoors and possibly helped dampen down any fire and brimstone his side might have brought south with them.
There was no whipping up Scottish sound and fury from the Australian on the eve of his first game as interim coach. Quite the opposite.
"Passion will only get you so far," said Johnson. "It may get you off to a good start but in the middle there's a core part of the game that's got to be logical as well. You will get chances and sometimes passion overrides the skill and you let yourselves down. There's this very fine line. This game will be won in the core period when the passion runs second and the skill takes over."
His reasoning was echoed by Sean Lamont, the old head in what is a young backline. "Keep calm," was Lamont's suggestion when asked what advice he would give to those around him in blue.
Scotland are second favourites by a distance this evening and not only because they will step out in a venue where they have not won for 30 years. It would have been easy to seek refuge and comfort in a call to arms but Johnson believes Scotland arrive at Twickenham with greater threat than for some time, possibly even back to the days when victory on the old enemy's turf was not a distant memory.
Stuart Hogg, Tim Visser and the New Zealand-born and raised debutant Sean Maitland give Scotland genuine pace across the back three. Hogg and Visser troubled New Zealand in the autumn, Visser scoring two tries.
"We made too many errors against New Zealand but we also showed our potency in attack that says we might be able to score some points," said Johnson, who received a good-luck text from Andy Robinson, his predecessor, yesterday. Scotland were beaten by Tonga in their last autumn fixture, compared to England's trouncing of the All Blacks, and finished bottom of the Six Nations heap last year. Johnson believes his side have little to lose, so much so that others will not relish playing Scotland.
"We are the side that no one wants to play and that's a pretty good place to stay. They will be fearful of the fact that we have got people that can do some things, a back three that can go the length of the field. If we get off to a good start and the boys get some confidence we can scare this championship. It opens up our avenues to punish sides. Having speed is a luxury and we have definitely got that."
Johnson has had minimal time to write his own game-plan since taking over from Robinson for what is, in effect, a very public job interview. It means that Scotland have adopted a straightforward approach – win the ball and get it to the fliers in the back three.
"We have simplified a few things," said Lamont. "It's no frills but it's something we think will be effective. We are happy being underdogs. England have got to be on a high after New Zealand and we have to beware. But it is a derby and derby games are always different."
Johnson compared the start of the tournament to the early rounds of a fight, all cautious jabs and wary circling, but he will encourage his side to revel in it. "I'm trying to get a squad together that are grown men and make manly decisions," he said. "The analogy of war and sport has always offended me. I say war is life and death, sport is life. This is living. This is a great place to be. We will look back at our lives when we're 70 or 80 and say what an opportunity this was to live a life like this. I want them to enjoy it."
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