LEADING former Scotland internationals have called on the SRU to restore Scottish voices to the management of the national squad after it was confirmed that Australian Scott Johnson will take over as head coach at least until after the summer tour of South Africa in June.
After a disastrous slide to 12th in the world rankings and a first year since 1998 in which Scotland failed to win at home, the SRU were left looking for a new head coach three weeks ago, when Andy Robinson called time on his three-and-a-half-year tenure after defeat to Tonga.
With New Zealander Graham Lowe also having vacated the role of Director of Performance Rugby last month, the SRU is short of both high-level rugby knowledge and Scots inside Murrayfield. So the national squad for the forthcoming RBS Six Nations and a four-team summer tournament in South Africa will be led by Robinson’s assistants, Johnson and Matt Taylor, who was born in Scotland but spent most of his childhood and career in Australia, as well as Italian Massimo Cuttitta.
Former Scotland stand-off Duncan Hodge has a role as a specialist kicking coach and the SRU is considering adding another forwards coach to help Scotland through the next six months.
Leading the recruitment drive is chief executive Mark Dodson, currently in Japan for talks over sponsorship for Murrayfield Stadium.
He came to Edinburgh from the world of media in Manchester and is guided by board chairman Sir Moir Lockhead, also an Englishman. Their origins are irrelevant as they were brought in to inject fresh business and entrepreneurial nous. But the situation has highlighted a lack of home-bred experience at the helm of Scottish rugby.
For Grand Slam winners Scott Hastings and John Rutherford, as well as former Scotland skipper Jason White, that is a concern. Hastings said: “I actually think we’ve lost some of the values Scottish rugby stands for.
“The appointment of Scott Johnson was expected and we’re in the same scenario as Stuart Lancaster [England coach who replaced Martin Johnson a year ago initially on an interim basis] found himself in, with a temporary appointment. But I feel that we need a strong Scottish voice in the managerial team.
“I don’t know who’s out there or who has put their CVs into Murrayfield, so I won’t be drawn on names but, when you look at the last period of turmoil in the game, the SRU brought Andy Irvine in as president, someone of standing who brought credibility back to our game. You can see his standing by the way he has gone on to become manager of the Lions. There are other individuals in Scotland who could help to do something similar, people who have the interests of Scottish rugby at heart, and who could provide the Scottish voice that I think is missing now.”
There was a lot of support in the Scottish rugby community for Sean Lineen, the former Scotland centre who assisted Frank Hadden briefly in 2008 and steered Glasgow to recent play-offs in the RaboDirect PRO12.
However, the SRU moved him out of Glasgow last summer to take on a new role in charge of player recruitment as well as heading up the Scottish age-grade structure, while coaching the national under-20 squad.
Dodson remains convinced that Lineen is more valuable to Scottish rugby in that role rather than in a return to national coaching.
Confirming the anticipated news that Johnson would follow Robinson and take temporary charge, Dodson stressed it did not affect the hunt for a permanent successor, stating: “The global recruitment search to identify a permanent successor to Andy Robinson is ongoing”.
Of Johnson, he 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. Scott knows our players and coaches well and is determined to hit the ground running with a successful RBS Six Nations Championship.”
The 50-year-old coach, a former Australian under-21 stand-off, said: “It’s an honour to take charge of the national team for our imminent campaign. I will be doing everything I can to bring the best out of our players as we all seek to achieve winning performances.”
Like Hastings, former Scotland stand-off Rutherford also expected Johnson to be handed the reins temporarily, but he insisted that Dodson had to include Scots in the shake-up. “The appointment they have made is probably the only route they could take at this time,” he said, “but I agree with Scott. It is very important moving forward that the SRU recognise the lack of Scottish voices now and do something about that as they create a new management to take the national side.”
There are invariably cries of xenophobia over such appeals for the SRU to look within, but another former Scotland captain, Jason White, told The Scotsman why he believes that it is vital to the success of Scottish teams.
He said: “I really enjoyed working with Massimo [Cuttitta] and, while I don’t know him, I’m pretty sure Scott Johnson is an outstanding coach, so it’s right that they are given the chance.
“But we have to have Scottish voices in there. I remember when Matt Williams came in with Willie Anderson and another Irishman, Brett Igoe, in 2004, and the difficulty came when the team struggled. If the coaches connect with the players and the players buy into what they’re asking, and you are winning, then it doesn’t matter where they are from because boys work for them and you find that inner fight – the ‘extra’ you need to compete at Test level.
“But it’s when the chips are down, and in Scottish rugby we always have our moments when it gets tough and your backs are to the wall, then you need empathy between coaches and players to help you through. I felt I connected with Jim Telfer, George Graham and Todd Blackadder, who obviously wasn’t Scottish, but my abiding memory of that time with Matt Williams was the lack of empathy and Scottishness, with regular comparisons with Leinster and Australia rather than Scottish teams. If they’re leaving the door open for another forwards coach alongside Massimo then that’s an opportunity to bring in a Scot for the Six Nations. I’d like to see the SRU go for someone like Stevie Scott, Carl Hogg, George Graham or Shade Munro, and give a Scottish coach the opportunity to prove himself alongside Scott.”
Hastings added: “Like a lot of ex-players out there we want to see Scottish rugby do well, and to achieve that we need to see the SRU getting a grip of the game and that means making the right appointments, and having the right voices, working with the players. Maybe Scott Johnson can sprinkle some magic dust and put himself into the mix when it comes to the end of the Six Nations and tournament in South Africa. It will be interesting to see how the players respond through the Six Nations.”
Scott Johnson - Factfile
1962: Born 19 August, Sydney, Australia.
1983: Represented Australia under-21s during a playing career as stand-off or centre with the New South Wales Waratahs.
1999: Named club coach of the year at Penrith, New South Wales.
2001: Worked as assistant coach at New South Wales Waratahs and Australia A before being invited to join Wales as skills coach under Graham Henry.
2005: Wales win Grand Slam for the first time in 27 years and the RBS Six Nations title, with Johnson as attack coach under head coach Mike Ruddock.
2006: February – Following the resignation of Ruddock as head coach, took over as Wales head coach on a temporary basis lasting three games, losses to Ireland and France and a draw with Italy.
March – Accepts offer from the Australian Rugby Union to join as attack coach on a three-year deal.
2007: December – After working with Australia at the 2007 World Cup, is released when Robbie Deans is confirmed as new head coach.
2008: March – Appointed head coach of the United States Eagles, holding the position for one year.
2009: January – Named director of coaching at the Ospreys.
2011: December – Appointed Scotland senior assistant coach under Andy Robinson, with the position to take effect at the end of the season.
2012: February – Despite suggestions to the contrary, leaves the Ospreys earlier than anticipated.
May – Begins role as Scotland attack coach.
June – Helps Scotland to wins against Australia, Fiji and Samoa.
November – Scotland lose the autumn Tests to New Zealand, South Africa and Tonga, following which Robinson resigns and Johnson is linked with a caretaker role.
20 December – Named interim head coach for the 2013 RBS 6 Nations and summer tour to South Africa.