Scotland will be putting its faith in one of the most tactically astute coaches in world rugby, as well as a renowned motivator, by appointing Scott Johnson as head coach for the RBS Six Nations Championship, according to two men who have worked with him closely.
Nikki Walker, the 24-times capped Scotland winger, was part of the Ospreys team which won a Magners League title and came within a couple of points of reaching a Heineken European Cup semi-final when Johnson was director of coaching at Liberty Stadium alongside head coach Sean Holley.
Walker, who is now playing his club rugby at Worcester Warriors, said: “Scott is one of the best coaches I have worked under and I’d be quite happy if he got the Scotland job.”
As the Evening News revealed yesterday, 50-year-old attack coach Johnson, pictured below, was due to be confirmed as successor to Andy Robinson this morning.
“Scott is definitely a bit different in character to everybody else I have been coached by,” added Walker, 30, who hopes to pick up the threads of an international career interrupted by injury immediately before the 2011 World Cup.
“Scott keeps everybody entertained in training. He is light-hearted, humorous and has loads of ideas.
“He has a great knowledge of the game as well, otherwise he wouldn’t have acquired the good reputation he has in coaching.”
On the way to becoming Robinson’s attack coach at Murrayfield, Sydney-born Johnson attained considerable international coaching experience, notably as part of a Wales backroom team which plotted a Grand Slam triumph in 2006.
He was also part of the Australian coaching panel at the 2007 World Cup, before taking charge of the US Eagles. He then returned to an Ospreys side which included Walker.
Walker said: “Scott has been to different places, but being Australian he knows Australians tend to play quite imaginative rugby, especially in the backs. I’m sure he can bring that to Scotland if he got the job.
“He was a massive influence on Ospreys winning the Magners League and when we got to the Heineken Cup quarters.”
Holley is another great admirer of Johnson. He is currently taking a break from rugby, but recalls his time operating alongside Johnson at Ospreys with affection.
“I worked with Scott when he came over as a skills coach for Wales [so] I had known him a long time before he came to the Ospreys. We shared similar ideals on how to play the game and it was an easy marriage, rugby-wise, when he came,” said the 42-year-old.
“One thing Johnno brings is a lot of character to any environment. He is particularly focused on developing a culture and bringing the best out in the players. He is very, very good at that.
“He also has a lot of experience around the sporting and business world, so he is quite a savvy individual with lots of ideas that endear him to players.
“Scott is pretty straight [and] like most Aussies he will tell it as it is. He doesn’t not suffer fools gladly and will also be a winner. He has all the ingredients.
“With him there is also a lot of time spent sitting down with players individually and getting to them one to one.
“Some of these players won’t like what he has to say, but at the end of the day they need to know it.”
Johnson gained notoriety ahead of a match against the All Blacks when he referred to New Zealand as “a poxy island in the Pacific Ocean” and then apologised, saying that New Zealand was “two poxy islands in the Pacific”.
“Definitely there is a tendency with Johnno to revel in mind games, and there’s not a shadow of doubt he is a character,” added Holley.