RICHARD Hibbard believes the criticism Scotland boss Scott Johnson levelled at him in their time together at the Ospreys was key in his rise to becoming Wales’ first-choice hooker.
Hibbard has been named in the Wales starting line-up for tomorrow’s RBS 6 Nations match against the Scots in Edinburgh, with both sides having won their previous two fixtures.
Hibbard won the first of his 21 caps against Argentina in 2006, but it has taken him until this Six Nations to be selected in the starting XV for two consecutive games. Murrayfield will see the 29-year-old make his third straight start, reward for Hibbard’s form for the Ospreys, which has seen him mooted as a potential Lions candidate.
But, at the start of 2012, Hibbard was left out of the Wales squad for the Six Nations, and his club boss Johnson, now Scotland’s interim head coach, publicly stated he felt the hooker’s omission was down to him being overweight. Hibbard admits he was hurt by the criticism and went on to post a series of tongue-in-cheek messages on Twitter which he entitled “Diary of a Fat Kid”.
Hibbard said: “I loved Scott and I always got on well with him, except for that one incident. When I read the headline, I took it to heart and the banter after it was the worst as the boys kill you and it is relentless. But it gave me a kick up the backside, I dropped a few kilos and I started doing extras after training with Adam Jones, as we both tend to struggle in that area. It has paid dividends.
“When I went to speak to him about it, he said it was taken out of context and I knew it hadn’t been as it was shown on TV! But I don’t hold it against him. If that was his feeling then fair enough, he did what he needed to and it got a reaction out of me.”
Johnson has guided Scotland to back-to-back wins against Italy and Ireland, having taken over from Andy Robinson when the former head coach was sacked after the humiliating autumn defeat to Tonga. And Hibbard believes the Scots are already showing signs of their Australian coach’s influence. “You can see from their style of play they are more open, they are scoring tries again.”
The Welsh scrum excelled in their win over Italy in Rome last time out and the front five for Saturday’s contest all worked with Johnson at the Ospreys.
Hibbard believes their former boss will be worried due to his knowledge of their abilities. He said: “I am very comfortable with Paul James and Adam Jones either side of me and I have two very powerful second rows behind me.
“Scott will be concerned, as it was the pack he built his Ospreys team around, and he knows what that front five can offer and what it has done for him. He knows they will need to be on their game here, but it would be a massive victory for him to get one over on Wales.”