The elder statesman of Scotland’s Twickenham-bound rugby team has reminded his colleagues that breaks will have to be earned against England on Saturday and not to rely on a resurgence that often comes naturally with the introduction of a new coach.
Much is made throughout sport of how results can dramatically improve with a fresh hand on the coaching tiller and in that context the arrival of Scott Johnson to succeed Andy Robinson has become a source of some optimism ahead of a fixture Scotland haven’t won in 30 years.
Drawing on experience which this weekend will see him join an elite group who have played Test rugby for more than a decade, hooker Dougie Hall said: “Sometimes too much can be made of the so-called ‘bounce’. A good manager is a good manager.
“In football, for example, coaches sometimes get turned round every two years because of the need for results immediately and there is hardly time for a bounce to be felt.”
After years as understudy to Ross Ford – though roles are reversed this weekend with the 2009 British and Irish Lion on the bench – Hall has special reason to appreciate the fresh start a new coach brings.
“One of the advantages of having a new coach is that you have to prove yourself to him.
“Anything the previous coach knew about you – or didn’t know about you – is scrubbed.
“You have to earn the new boss’s respect and also that of the other coaches who have been brought in.”
By omitting Ford, who has had restricted game time recently due to injuries from which he has just recovered, Johnson has sent out a strong signal that nobody is an automatic choice.
“Selection can’t go on reputation and Fordy would tell you the same. He wants to get selected on performances only,” said Hall. “That’s the only way it can be at international level. It has to be a case of everybody fighting so hard for the position that they have to play so well they can’t be dropped.
“If you lose that there is a danger people start to think a team is selected on half-performances which is no good to anybody.”
Of his 39 caps over the past decade Hall, whose debut in a World Cup warm-up match away to Wales came as a member of Edinburgh’s front row before switching to Glasgow, 27 of those outings have been as a substitute.
It is a situation that could, for some, have proved frustrating. To Hall’s credit, he has continued to push himself forward for honours. “You keep yourself going by thinking club first, country second. It has always been the way that you have to play well for the club to get opportunities higher up.
“After every occasion I have been a sub, I’ve gone back to my club and worked hard to try to reap further benefits. This season Glasgow are going well (second in the league) and so far as Scotland are concerned preparations are probably the best for any of the Six Nations campaigns I’ve been involved in. Mentally Scott Johnson and (forwards coach) Dean Ryan have challenged us a lot and there is also new stuff we can use to make us better.
“Now we have to use all the info and good coaching and translate it on to the pitch; in the past we have been guilty of not doing that. We’ve beaten ourselves too many times.”
Statistics released this week showed Scotland had some of the best ball carriers in the previous Six Nations and made the highest yardage despite the team finishing with the wooden spoon. Did that suggest that it might just need a final pass to stick for the Scots to be in business? “You can read statistics any way you want,” said Hall. “If we had won 20 of our last 25 games people would have been saying we’re doing something right. Because we have lost a few, that is turned into a negative.”
This will be a third trip to Twickenham for Hall, who learned his rugby at the same Glenalmond school as one-time Scotland captains David Leslie, David Sole and Rob Wainwright, and he is under no illusions about what is required.
“England are playing some of the best rugby I have seen in a long time and Twickenham is a bloody hard place to go and get a win. It can be done and who is to say this is not the time to do it?
“The Six Nations is such a hard competition, especially at the start when nobody really knows how competitive any side actually is. This would be one of our best wins ever given how long it has been since the last success at Twickenham.”