THE Six Nations phoney war is nearing its end with Scotland confirming Kelly Brown as their captain and interim coach Scott Johnson insisting it is all to do with his desire for less talk and more deed.
Johnson enjoyed sparring with the media at the RBS Six Nations launch in London last week, and that is unlikely to disappear in the weeks ahead, but as he spoke yesterday of the reasons behind sticking with Brown after his first run through the autumn Tests ended disappointingly, he clearly had his “game-head” on.
“My view on captaincy may not be everybody’s cup of tea,” he said, “but I like doers. I don’t like the big talkers.
“The best captains I have worked with in the past have got their hands dirty, who get down and do it and show the way. I have a reluctance to have callers [lineout and move callers] as captain because they are talking all the time and doing line-out calls, and are leaders in their own right. You hear their voice so often.
“The captain’s job is to get on and work and be the judge and jury if there is a conflicting versions of events. I like clean eyes from someone who sits in a position that does not have those other responsibilities.”
His predecessor, Andy Robinson, started off with clear leaders in his side as captains, with it rotating among scrum-halves Chris Cusiter, Mike Blair and Rory Lawson, while Al Kellock was the first choice for the 2011 World Cup, but it was he who decided Kelly Brown should lead the team.
Robinson opted for the former Melrose man this time last year but the back row forward was struck down by a nasty leg injury in his final match for Saracens before joining the Six Nations camp, and he then turned to another, what Johnson might term “do-er” in the shape of Ross Ford.
As focused as he clearly is on the first Scotland team selection he is responsible for, humour was inevitably never far away as Johnson spoke of how it is easy to switch off from players who talk constantly, comparing it to how he can do likewise when his wife Judy is speaking to him.
He said he would reveal a core of “deputies” at today’s team announcement, other leaders he was keen to hand responsibility to, and who could push themselves to the forefront as potential skippers. Out of the training squad have gone forwards Alasdair Dickinson, Chris Fusaro, Ryan Wilson and Richie Vernon, and backs Tom Heathcote, Sean Kennedy, Alex Dunbar, Duncan Weir and Tommy Seymour, who will all now join the Scotland A squad. Alasdair Strokosch returns after the birth of his second child.
Brown believes there are a good few leaders within the squad and so remained wary of whether the chance would come, even when asked to be the face of Scotland at last week’s tournament launch.
“I genuinely didn’t know when we were there,” Brown insisted. “He told me the same as he told you [media], that he hadn’t decided yet.”
Brown did not feel confident after the dismal finish to 2012 against Tonga in Aberdeen, but dismissed a suggestion that he feared having it taken away. “I was not fearful. I was very down. But I am not one to sit and sulk, so I just got back up and all I could do was focus on myself. I got a lot out of the Autumn Tests and learned a lot. Things did not go as I would have liked, but I learned a lot and I’m now better placed to help us move forward.
“I can just lead as me. I cannot lead as anyone else. In the past I have been led by some good captains but I need to lead as myself. Johnno [Johnson] said he did not want someone who speaks a lot, and that is absolutely perfect!
“I was never one for standing up and saying ‘we are going to do this and that’. It is just a case to do my job out there. For me action speaks louder than words.”
Brown has always had a stammer, and he has worked hard to bring it under control in recent years with the help of the McGuire Programme. He may still be delighted that Johnson dominates media sessions where the two are paired together, but, as a Saracen with an insight into the English psyche, he is also confident and excited about leading a team to Twickenham and into a Six Nations Championship.
“Every time [captaining Scotland] is a huge honour and to get to do it in the Six Nations, one of the oldest and best rugby tournaments in the world, is exciting. Everyone knows the history of Scotland v England but, for me, it is very much a case of the next game. We are looking at ourselves to see what we need to do, and if we can do that then we can be successful.
“I do think they [English players] respect us as players but we have not quite nailed it as a team so it is up to us to make sure we do that on Saturday. After the autumn Tests we know we all had to go away and improve. All the guys have done that and I believe that we are in a better and stronger place. But there is still a lot of work to be done and we are striving to improve.”
But just in case you were wondering whether Johnson was becoming all predictable in his new guise as a head coach, during his discussion on Brown’s captaincy the Australian threw in a quote from a particularly well-known Greek philosopher and mathematician.
“On captaincy, I quote Plato: ‘when choosing a leader choose someone with leadership qualities who doesn’t want to lead’. I quite like that. When you look at parliamentarians these days, I think he got it right. That’s a pretty good basis. You look at the qualities of the person first.”
It may not be strictly apposite, as Brown undoubtedly wants to lead, but the point was clear – Johnson is hoping Brown’s quiet, determined lead can inspire a Scottish team to come under the radar in the forthcoming Six Nations Championship and finally begin to produce performances with the dogged longevity to get over the finish line.