SCOTT Johnson stopped short of branding Wales cheats but, after naming the team for what could be his final RBS Six Nations match as Scotland’s head coach, he was unequivocal that they would never play as the Welsh did in Saturday’s demoralising encounter.
Johnson has stuck with largely the same side that lost 28-18 at Murrayfield, but with a twist on his ‘form and future’ argument with two changes in the pack. By handing 22-year-old Edinburgh lock Grant Gilchrist his Test debut in the second row, rather than replacing the injured Richie Gray with Alastair Kellock, he is blooding a talent he believes will be central to the 2015 World Cup campaign.
Conversely, having given young flanker Rob Harley three Tests to find his feet at this level, he restores the experienced Alasdair Strokosch to the back row.
Both will be integral to Scotland’s bid to win more ball than has been the case in the championship so far, and to keep a hold of it better in what is expected to be a fiery finale in Paris, but that was not Johnson’s main topic of conversation at yesterday’s team announcement.
Chief among those were the lack of consistency in world refereeing and the art of conning officials. Wales proved adept on Saturday in stepping off scrums when meant to engage, and could be heard shouting ‘early engagement’ to Saturday’s referee, Craig Joubert. Then, having sown doubt in Joubert’s mind over the opponents, they fell to ground in scrums, effectively suckering the official into awarding a rash of penalties and taking away a key platform of Scotland’s attack.
Johnson was furious and showed off blisters on his fingers left by email exchanges this week with South African referee Joubert and the IRB. But he insisted that he was not being naïve in trying to take the moral high ground after rugby’s latest penalty shoot-out.
“The scrum becomes so important, the decisions so critical, that it creates anger that adds to other areas of the game,” he said, “and that stops the game flowing. We’re not at the stage of our development to be sitting here trying to con people. We’re trying to do it right. That may be the moral high ground, but New Zealand are the same. They’ve just been together longer and they get a reputation, and it’s amazing, when you get a reputation, how often the benefit of the doubt goes to you.
“We were frustrated that we got conned at the weekend. We warned everyone that some teams do these things, but I don’t want to be a coach who tells his players to start diving like soccer players. I want to tell them we’re going to be competitive and, if we’re not good enough, we’re not good enough. I don’t want to start chasing rainbows by telling them to cheat.”
Johnson showed sympathy for Joubert, pointing instead to the vast number of potential infringements in modern rugby that leave officials to decide for themselves which are most important.
“If he [Joubert] wasn’t such a great bloke and a great human being, my tirade may have been different, but he did not cost us the game. At no stage am I complaining about Craig. If we got him again this week, I’d welcome him.
“What we want is consistency. What is viewed as correct and what is viewed as incorrect? I can show you the stats for the ref this weekend [Welshman Nigel Owens]. They’re completely opposite to the guy last weekend. Every time we get a referee, we do our due diligence on them and you would not believe how much they differ from one another. It is drastically different.
“And this is my point. I can spend my whole time getting the team prepared to play against X [referee], but I don’t want to do that. Naïve or not, this team is trying to grow, trying to get an ethic and if I change that, we’re deluding ourselves