Scott Johnson SRU appointment begs a few questions

IT MAY be that Scott Johnson has the right blend of experience, man-management skills and passion for developing the game that is required to close the chasm between Scotland and the top nations but there are questions about his appointment.

Scott Johnson, left, with Mark Dodson, centre, and Jonathan Humphreys at Scotstoun yesterday. Picture: SNS
Scott Johnson, left, with Mark Dodson, centre, and Jonathan Humphreys at Scotstoun yesterday. Picture: SNS

The first concerns the way it was pushed through, seemingly with Johnson himself as the main sounding board over whether it was the right appointment. The second is over a continuing belief, with no Scots interviewed, that foreign coaches are best.

SRU Chief Executive Mark Dodson explained that he and Johnson determined who would be the best people to take on the national coach and director of rugby roles. They were pleasantly surprised by the quality of candidates interested in the head coach post, but Johnson felt he was the best candidate for the director’s position. Dodson agreed.

No advertising of the position and no interviewing of other candidates, inside or outside Scotland. Carve-up? The accusation is fair.

Appointing the right people for Scottish rugby is a tricky task. Some in Scottish rugby, and football for that matter, seem to believe that, because we have been playing the games longer than most, we know the best way forward. There is also a reluctance by too many coaches/managers to act positively on views from elsewhere.

But others are learning from innovations across the world and implementing them here. And that’s not new. There was much in Hawick’s domination of Scottish rugby in the 1970s that came from the southern hemisphere via Hugh McLeod and Derrick Grant and, likewise, Melrose, who won championships in the 1990s, benefited from Jim Telfer’s touring with Scotland and the Lions.

Many of their disciples are now coaching and travelling the world. So, just as bringing in coaches from elsewhere can be a bonus, there also has to be a recognition that promoting Scottish coaches – including Bryan Redpath at Sale, Carl Hogg at Gloucester and Greig Oliver at Munster – can pay dividends.

It is not xenophobia which fuels a wariness of little-known coaches from outside Scotland with chequered pasts, but the evidence from results of the past decade.

Ironically, it is that period of failure which has pushed the SRU to seek input from abroad.

For all their undoubted skills and experience, Scottish rugby has struggled under the systems and strategies of Matt Williams, Willie Anderson, Brett Igoe, Steve Anderson, Mike Brewer, Graham Lowe (director of performance rugby) and Andy Robinson. At the professional clubs there have been Keith Robertson and Kiwi Searancke in Glasgow as well as Lynn Howells, Michael Bradley, Billy McGinty and Neil Back at Edinburgh. In Sevens – Phil Greening. Not a Scot among them and no improved consistency of performance.

How many opportunities to improve Scottish coaches were lost in that time? And would Scots have fared any better? Those are hypothetical questions but, arguably, the best appointments of recent times have been products of Scottish coaching – Sean Lineen and Gregor Townsend at Glasgow.

Another talent possessed by the non-Scots has been self-promotion. They were not slow at coming forward.

SRU chiefs lacking a depth of rugby knowledge were susceptible to persuasion, which is why they should have respected, experienced Scottish rugby figures by their sides when making such vital appointments. There is also a lesson there for ambitious Scottish coaches who under-state their own value.

Dodson yesterday confirmed what The Scotsman revealed last week, that Scots had been approached for posts at Edinburgh [Redpath and Hogg] but turned them down.

He will use that to justify a non-Scottish appointment but, had either been approached for a Scotland post the answer would probably have been different. They were not considered.

Johnson is an altogether different character to Williams, the Australian who angered most in Scottish rugby by telling everyone how much he could improve them.

Johnson is a more empathetic character and can be expected to have a more cohesive approach. He has ideas on tackling the lack of competition at youth and school levels and the resultant lack of talent development. With Dodson committed to finding ways to support him, the Australian’s fresh approach and experience of a genuine sporting culture may just be the answer.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of the appointment process, Johnson will need support to make a difference.

But what will be said at his first meeting with First Minister Alex Salmond and independent school headteachers, and how will he attempt to explain how they need to change their focus in order for Scottish rugby to improve?