IF SCOTT Johnson does lead Scotland to South Africa this summer, he is expected to hand Test debuts to more players.
Scotland will face South Africa, Samoa and Italy in a round-robin tournament over three weekends at three venues. After 13 players were given debuts by Andy Robinson last season, Johnson has sought continuity and introduced only Sean Maitland and Grant Gilchrist in the RBS Six Nations Championship. Maitland scored on his debut against England and, although he has struggled to see ball since, has still proved a valuable member of the side, arguably more in defence than attack. Gilchrist’s introduction was delayed due to injury but he turned in 55 minutes against a formidable French side despite having had no gametime while recovering.
“I was really proud of Gilco,” said Johnson. “That boy hasn’t played for a month and we threw him in. I watched him closely because I have huge regard for the lad. We took him off when he was just about hitting the wall. For a kid to do that and compete, well, there’s a good one on the horizon.
“If I’m involved in the summer tour, then there are developments we will do. We’ll hopefully have a few on the Lions tour and that will probably force changes. If you’re asking me how many we’ll get [selected for the Lions] I’d say probably two or three would maybe get there.
“We have a scrum that’s vastly under-rated and we just haven’t been able to do it, so I’m not sure they’re going to look at our front row but [against France] we were up against a quality side and under a heap of pressure and it was really nice to see a competitive scrum. I felt we did really well there at times.
“As for the summer, we’re not going to be silly [in tour selection], but we’re going to find out who can play Test football and who’s equipped for that, and some might come off and some might not.
“First and foremost I’m a believer in good character and, if they’re gifted athletically, then they’ll stand a bloody good chance. I think we need to fill our tank a little bit, and need to make spots competitive.
“Competition and pressure is a good thing. I’m happy for [stand-off] Duncan [Weir]. He stood up and did some good things. [Scrum-half] Greig [Laidlaw] started the tournament back at nine and we weren’t sure how he sat, but he’s shown his intellect with how he can do things and swap over. There were good signs in this championship.”
As for what he, or his successor, has to work with Johnson continues to find a mixture of optimism and realism.
“I’m really proud to be coaching this bunch of lads because they are good lads,” he said, “but we need to get rid of this tag of being good losers. I’ve only been with this group of players for ten weeks or whatever but I’ve seen them grow as people and I’ve seen them grow in certain areas of the game. But you are trying to emphasise sometimes that they don’t do it quite right. It doesn’t mean they are poor. I am proud of these guys because their effort is first-class, but sometimes we put ourselves under pressure and we accept that. We won’t shy away from anything.
“People can take positives from this campaign but we don’t want to be good-looking bridesmaids. What this [championship] has shown is that we’re able to compete. We showed great resolve at times against France, but what disappointed me was that we should have finished them off.
“But there is confidence, there is quality and we’re not far off from combining the two. We’ve got to keep doing things better. There is no point in whining. We have some quality players and Scotland needs to be able to compete.”
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Tuesday 18 June 2013
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