Armstrong played alongside Ryan at Newcastle in the late 1990s, the English back row becoming player-coach alongside Steve Bates and Rob Andrew. Ryan will this afternoon join Scott Johnson and Stevie Scott at Murrayfield in their first media conference since being appointed as the new interim coaching team for the RBS Six Nations Championship, alongside assistants Matt Taylor, Duncan Hodge and Massimo Cuttitta.
It is another choice by the SRU viewed as controversial because it again highlights the lack of development of Scottish coaches by the governing body. However, Armstrong, who was a player-coach at the now defunct Border Reivers and with local club Jed-Forest before returning to a haulage business, believes that Ryan could provide the quick-fix Scotland need early in 2013.
“Dean is a tremendous appointment,” said Armstrong. “I think he will be great for the Scotland squad because he’s out of the Jim Telfer mould and that’s what Scottish players respond to. He was a player-coach when I joined Newcastle and, being from an Army background, he was a hard man in training and playing. I’d like to see Scottish coaches, and he’s not Scottish, but he has that same work ethic and approach Jim Telfer had, where he demands high standards and tells people straight when they’re not reaching them. He won’t ask you to do anything he hasn’t done or wouldn’t do himself.
“He says what he thinks and I think the Scottish team, the way they have been playing, need a real shake-up. I’m not sure why they have struggled recently, but, to me, they look as though they have maybe had too much rugby. Maybe it’s just a lack of confidence or lack of inspiration lately, but, whatever it is, nobody is stamping their authority on the squad, either as players within or as coaches, and that’s where I think it will change with Dean involved. He knows the game inside out and knows how to get the best from players, and how to be clear in how they can move forward. That’s what we need I think.”
The rapid appearance of the Calcutta Cup on the horizon may send fear into the minds of some Scots, particularly after England finished 2012 beating New Zealand, but Armstrong is excited by it.
The former scrum-half is one of more than 30 Calcutta Cup veterans who will come together at The Dorchester Hotel in London on 1 February to celebrate the famous fixture in a charity fundraiser.
The Glengoyne Auld Enemy Dinner was launched in Edinburgh last year and raised money for Help for Heroes and The Bill McLaren Foundation. The Forces charity, Help for Heroes, is again a beneficiary of the event, where Armstrong, his former sparring partner Matt Dawson, Martin Johnson and a host of Scotland and England legends from several decades of Calcutta Cup matches will reminisce on past glories. Scottish broadcaster Jill Douglas will host the event, which has been organised again by former Scotland back row Stuart Reid.
Armstrong said: “The Calcutta Cup always gets me going. The dinner was a great event in Edinburgh and it will go down well in London. Stuart’s idea was to bring together former players to celebrate the rivalry of the Calcutta Cup with supporters, and the players love that. Supporting the Forces and the way these men and women put their lives on the line is also brilliant. The night will set us up nicely for Twickenham, where I’m hoping to see my mate Dawson stunned by a first Scottish victory there in 30 years.”
But does he genuinely believe that Scotland can turn around a tough finish to 2012 and banish the memories of a whitewashed Six Nations last year by opening with a first victory at Twickenham since 1983?
“It’s a funny game,” he said. “Sometimes a change can make a real difference to a team, even if the guy before, like Andy Robinson, was actually a good coach. He didn’t get the results and the players know they let him and supporters down, so they’ll be pretty determined to make up for that.
“There’s no getting away from it; it’s a massive task. The closest I got to winning at Twickenham was a 12-12 draw in 1989 and we weren’t a bad team. You look at where the two teams finished the year and the confidence in each camp and you’d say Scotland had no chance, but how many times have we won the Calcutta Cup when we were written off?
“It’s not just the cup, but the fact that it is Scotland v England. These boys will be legends if they end the wait for a win at Twickenham. We can go down there and rattle their cage if our forwards and backs front up and take them on. Get stuck into them from the first minute, stick to the game-plan Scott Johnson and Dean and the coaches come up with, but take the game to England with every tackle, every run, every kick. Everyone is writing us off so the boys will go out there, grit their teeth and say ‘we’ll show them’. Something happens to Scots when your backs are against the wall.”
Armstrong’s most famous Calcutta Cup moment came in 1990 when he played a key role in the backs move that ended with Tony Stanger scoring the match-winning try at Murrayfield to clinch the Grand Slam. Armstrong revealed that that score owed everything to a half-time tirade aimed at the scrum-half by Gavin Hastings. “I should have run through that move in the first half,” he explained, “but, the greedy wee s***e I was, I went myself rather than give Gav the ball.
“I remember getting a bollocking off him at half-time for not going through with it. He really let me have it. So when the move was called in the second half, there was no way I wasn’t going to follow it exactly. If you look at my pass I’m throwing the ball one-handed over my head because I was just determined to get the ball to Gav, so that I wouldn’t get another bollocking. I think he picked it off his knees but he was used to that with me! I was never involved in any international with as much at stake at that 1990 game.
“You couldn’t have scripted it better. The Triple Crown, the Five Nations and the Grand Slam all up for grabs. The atmosphere was electric when we came out. I couldn’t believe the noise when we walked down the tunnel behind Soley [David Sole] and it just seemed to keep going the whole game. But, just shows you – it needed a bollocking to get the scrum-half to do the right thing! That’s us Scots!”
• There are still a handful of tables remaining for the Glengoyne Auld Enemy Dinner, where Armstrong and many Calcutta Cup teammates and opponents will share their memories on the eve of the 131st fixture. More information at: www.theauld enemy.co.uk