SCOTLAND’S interim coach Scott Johnson has refused to wade into the arrogance row that has preceded today’s RBS Six Nations opener with England, but acknowledged that if Stuart Lancaster’s men are cocksure, then they are so with good reason.
Former Scotland coach Jim Telfer this week said England were arrogant, pretentious and condescending, suggesting that a number of their players had let last year’s win over New Zealand go to their heads. Lancaster shot those comments down this week, saying it was a criticism that could have been levelled at teams of the past but not the present, while Johnson did his best to stay on the periphery of a cross-border row.
He conceded, though, that any confidence England had was justified after their record 38-21 victory over the All Blacks at Twickenham, the scene of today’s Calcutta Cup clash. “It becomes arrogant if you can’t complete the deed. If you’re going to talk the talk you have to walk the walk, that goes for everyone in every form of life,” Johnson said. “We need to be confident but not step over the arrogant line.”
When asked about the fact that England may have showboated once victory against New Zealand was secured, the Australian said: “There was plenty of good showboating too. They did the deed, it’s not arrogant for me if you do the deed, they did that, fair play to them, but tomorrow is a new day.”
Johnson will sit in the seat that had been expected to be filled by former England coach Andy Robinson, who lost his job at the end of a disastrous autumn international series. A home loss to Tonga sounded the death knell for Robinson, with the well-travelled Johnson stepping up from the assistant’s role to take the post on a caretaker basis.
As initiations go, today’s could be easier. Scotland have the weight of history against them, having not won at Twickenham since 1983, but the 50-year-old has a different way of looking at that. “Statistics are like a bikini, it shows a lot but not the whole thing and if you go back in time, the stats may be lying. We have a chance to create new history and new stats,” he said.
As a man who has worked for the Australian and Welsh national sides, Johnson is well-versed in what it means to get the better of England and, in a bid to do so today, has recruited someone from behind enemy lines.
Former England forward Dean Ryan has been drafted in to offer Johnson some temporary help, putting his television analysis work to what his boss hopes will be the best possible use. “He’s been great to have around from a coaching perspective, but as a mate, to have him sitting next to you is even better. I have really enjoyed his company,” Johnson said. “The reality is he commentates every week and knows the English players and their rugby. The synergy between us has been fantastic.”
In a bid to make his mark on a side looking to get back on the winning trail following the Tonga loss, Johnson has made six changes to a side last picked by Robinson. Sean Maitland is the headline inclusion, but according to the coach, whoever plays will do just fine so long as they take their opportunities. “We have a spine of quality athletes who can get up field,” he said. “You get seven chances to score during a game and we have to make sure we make and take them.”