AS HE prepares to lead his team to Twickenham at the start of another RBS Six Nations rugby championship next month, new Scotland coach Scott Johnson is desperately hoping wing wizard Tim Visser can add to his winning record at the home of English rugby.
On the last occasion Aussie Johnson visited ‘Billy Williams’ cabbage patch’, Visser raced across the whitewash for two tries as the home side surrendered a 17-point lead after half an hour to crash 38-32.
Sadly, this was during a period in which Dutchman Visser was merely qualifying for Scotland on residency and turning out instead for the select Barbarians team coached by Johnson.
Nevertheless, it is a fond memory of the coach – and one he is eager to repeat at the earliest opportunity.
“I have had a win at Twickenham, with the Barbarians,” recalled Johnson with a smile before reality shone through again. “It’s not an easy place to go and play but we nailed it that day. I’ve taken some good sides there, including Wales, and been beaten.
“This time I’ll be expecting (another) win!”
Poor performances by Edinburgh in both the Rabo Direct Pro 12 and Heineken European Cup are reflected in a lower representation in a 35-strong provisional squad which will enter camp in Glasgow next week.
However, some members of the Capital crew have been able to enhance reputations, among them centre Matt Scott who is having a glowing future predicted for him by the coach.
“I thought Matt Scott did some really good things [for Edinburgh against Munster],” said Johnson, pictured below, of the player’s latest outing.
And drawing on his experience of working with Scott as attack coach on the summer tour of Australia and the South Pacific, he added: “I have a lot of time for Matty. I think he is going to be a wonderful player in years to come. It’s a good learning curve for him out there because he is realising not everything goes the way he would want.
“He did some positive things [against Munster] especially at the conclusion of the game.”
Those positives included bursting through midfield and setting up one of Dougie Fife’s two tries while Grant Gilchrist, one of nine uncapped players in the latest Scotland squad, put in a solid shift when maintaining a 100 per cent appearance record at second row in the latest Euro competition.
“Grant Gilchrist is at the forefront of our future players.
“He is a big boy, a tough boy with a good pedigree. We are really very happy and excited with him,” said Johnson, who reserved his warmest praise for the utility value of Greig Laidlaw whom he confirmed would continue as front line goal-kicker at Twickenham where he’ll be expected to revert back to scrum half.
Referring to the versatility that has taken Laidlaw between both half back positions, he said: “It says a bit about Laidlaw as a lad that he can play on the ground and in the air. It says a bit about his vision and his personality. I quite like that skill set myself.
“He is goalkicker at the moment and I see no reason to change. It’s only fair on him but that is a secondary thing to making the side and performing well.”
Among the back-up scrum halfs is Sean Kennedy, a former Edinburgh development player transferred along the M8 to Glasgow last summer. The odds are heavily against Kennedy getting a cap call at this stage but were he to be involved in the Six Nations that would mean Glasgow having FOUR international scrum halfs also including Chris Cusiter (currently injured), Henry Pyrgos and Fijian Niko Matawalu.
In such circumstances wouldn’t there be a case for sending Kennedy back to Edinburgh maybe at the earliest opportunity? Johnson would not be drawn but it was apparent that 21-year-old Kennedy’s selection owes much to planning ahead.
”We’ll cover that at the end of the year and we are where we are at the moment,” he said of Kennedy’s club future before opening up on the subject of sending a message that progress can be meteoric within a squad seeking to win every game while planning ahead.
“There’s no doubt about it [progress can be quick].
“We are comfortable where we are with our first two No. 9s.
“The third position is one we wanted to cover a few things off where we know [a player’s] skill sets and what they are capable of doing.
“Kennedy comes into those plans really easily. At the end of the day we picked a squad that stood up to the two criteria – form and future.”
Another closing in on a cap appears to be Chris Fusaro, the former Heriot’s flanker who is the only specialist open-side flanker in the squad albeit Al Strokosch has been given leave from next week’s training due to the imminent arrival of his second child.”
Among those listed as injured is Ross Rennie, the Edinburgh openside and he has been boosted in battling injury by remarks attributed this week to Jim Telfer, former Scotland and Lions coach.
Interviewed by a Welsh newspaper Telfer, mainly talking about Ospreys flanker Justin Tipuric, also mentioned Edinburgh’s Rennie, saying: “I would liken him (Tipuric) and Scotland’s Ross Rennie to the great All Black flanker Graham Mourie in that they provide a link between forwards and backs.
“[Wales captain] Sam Warburton or England captain Chris Robshaw don’t possess that linking ability.
“They are players who fall between the six (blindside flanker) and seven role.
“They don’t really off-load like you would want them to and it’s the most important thing for you to have in your [number] seven.”