SCOTT Johnson was always clear about the developmental aspects of the summer tour to South Africa and the Autumn Test series for both him and his squad, but there was still a nagging disappointment in the Australian as he watched his side fall just short in the bid to finish the year with victory over the Wallabies on Saturday.
Hours before Ireland came close to the scalp of the year with a last-gasp loss to the All Blacks, Johnson knew that his side could have extended their winning run over Australia to three games and seven years, had they been just that bit smarter.
“It is disappointing, of course it is,” he said, “because we’re competitive people and you want to win every time you go out there, and we know that, had we been a little bit more clever, we could have beaten Australia again. You can’t fault the guys’ endeavour. They worked really hard out there for themselves, the squad and the country, put everything into it, so I can’t be hard on them. There is just that bit of naivety at times.
“You can talk about a lack of cutting edge, but it’s not that because we cut through. It was the skills set. The skills at the death cost us a metre or two which, at this level, means you’re run down when you should have scored. Poor execution at the end, but very good skills up to that that opened Australia up, and that’s where you see the positive and negatives that we have to build on.”
With 2013 coming to an end, Johnson knows enough about the fragility of Scottish resources and the demands of the elite game to know that having everyone he wants available for the RBS Six Nations is unlikely. In fact, Tim Visser is struggling to be match fit even if he does return from his broken leg before February. But Johnson has told the players to understand that they have had their opportunity for game-time, and now they have to provide clear evidence on the pitch at club level, consistently, for selection in the spring.
“There were a lot of questions we threw out there on people and we are a little clearer now as to who can do it and how far some are, and the team is from dominating Test matches,” said the interim head coach.
“The three Test matches gave us a chance to have a look at all of the positions as best we could, inhibited a bit by injuries in the backs. Some guys showed up well and some are still needing to learn.
“But I have just said to the players we are going to have a form element now. There are six to eight weeks to go before the Six Nations and everybody got a run out in the games. Through the year, we were lucky to get ten new caps and three more in this period, so we are expanding the depth of the competition in the squad. Some are not where they need to be and we know that but it was good experience for that.
“Come the Six Nations, I’d like to think that form will merit selection, but my aim is to get a squad ready for the next two years and I do still have to find out whether some people can go the length to the World Cup or do we rule them out now? Do some just need more game-time to become more streetwise and international class?
“I keep saying I think Matt Scott will be a wonderful Test player, but he is not the finished article and the most disappointing part of this summer was not to get the combination of him and Alex [Dunbar] functioning because they are on different sides of the country and don’t get to play with each other, while Duncan Taylor is a brave, big kid who is adding depth and Kieran [Low] is big and explosive and in years to come you will see a really quality Test player who you will be glad we captured.
“So we’ve got work still to do, but I am not going to run away from the fact I have to pick on form to win it [the Six Nations]. We will get the right people in the room. Trust me. This team is going to build towards something good.”