Six Nations: Scotland breakdown play sickens boss

Scott Johnson the Scotland interim head coach. Picture: Getty
Scott Johnson the Scotland interim head coach. Picture: Getty
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SCOTT Johnson might be the new face of the Scotland coaching team but, in every other respect, he was old hat in the aftermath of a demoralising experience at Twickenham.

The Australian spoke just as his predecessor spoke, decrying his team’s inability to cope at the breakdown, a facet of the game where England didn’t so much win a comprehensive victory over their visitors as batter them remorselessly for much of the afternoon. “You can’t dress it up,” said the Australian. “If it looks like a pig, then it’s a pig.”

The interim coach was left with a weary look, the same demeanour that Andy Robinson displayed so often before him. Scotland had no answer to England’s ruthless work in close quarters, no solution to the conundrum that was Tom Wood and Ben Morgan and Chris Robshaw and the two wonderful locks, Joe Launchbury and Geoff Parling. On the floor, this was schoolboys taking on a well-drilled army. It was England winning fast ball and Scotland toiling with ball so slow that it may as well have been delivered out of the ruck on the back of tortoise.

“I keep saying it,” said Johnson. “We can dream away about how we would like to play the game of rugby but the reality in the modern game is that, if you don’t get the contact area right, you can dream all you like. It’s fantasy, the dreams won’t come true. We lost the battle of field position because of our inability to stop them. Our contact area with and without the ball was poor. It’s simple.

“We spoke about it when we first came into camp. These are the improvements that are needed and we need to do it right. It’s no coincidence that the best team in the world is the best in the contact area. Everybody wants to be great rugby players but you can’t be great rugby players if you’re not getting quality ball. There is no other panacea apart from good old fashioned hard grunt. There are improvements needed in our game right across the board at all levels. We’ve just to got to keep going with the same mantra and get it right. That’s all you can do. You can’t dress it up. If it looks like a pig, it’s a pig. That’s it.”

We have already become accustomed to Johnson’s idiosyncratic statements and likening his team’s performance at the breakdown to something you would find squealing in a sty is right up with all the other odd things he has said.

He was right, though. Scotland have some nice footballers in their pack but not enough clever rugby players, not enough technicians at the breakdown, nobody like Wood, that is for sure. They couldn’t live with England in that area.

“We weren’t bullied, we just didn’t get it right,” Johnson continued. “A lot of it is positioning and technique. We were slow in our line speed coming forward. We talk about it constantly and we didn’t do it. Did we try hard? Too right we did. We showed some great endeavour in some areas of the game. Fantastic. I don’t for one second question the resolve of the boys. They’re a fantastic bunch of kids. They’re good players but they just need to work on areas of the game. We’re deluding ourselves to think otherwise.

“We want to play attractive rugby and we’ve got potent players to play that game.

“The fact is we’re limiting our chances of doing it unless we get it right elsewhere.”

Johnson was not of a mind to “paper over the cracks” but he did talk of Stuart Hogg and the significant contribution he made. Hogg looked pacy and intelligent and right back to his very best form. He had England worried every time he threatened to cut loose. A modicum of hope on a day that left the coach beleaguered.

“Stuart had his best game in Scotland colours. I thought he did wonderfully, wonderfully well.

“We put England under some pressure in the first half and, when most teams are under pressure, they get a bit wobbly. It’s a combative sport. You have to dominate more collisions than not. Unfortunately, we didn’t put them under enough pressure often enough. It just goes to prove that when we get it right we look pretty good and when we get it wrong we’re getting punished for it.”

A bruising beginning to the championship. Same as it ever was. . .