THE Scottish Rugby Union have given the strongest signal yet that Scott Johnson will lead the national team to the 2015 World Cup
by announcing another former Osprey, Jonathan Humphreys, as the new forwards coach.
Johnson is in the final stages of agreeing terms on a new contract that will see him confirmed as the Scotland head coach through to the World Cup in England, after impressing the SRU with three wins in the recent RBS Six Nations Championship. It is understood that the SRU were keen to keep news of Humphreys’ appointment quiet to announce the new management team at the same time, but the Ospreys have forced their hand by revealing their coach’s departure yesterday.
The SRU have given Humphreys a two-year deal as assistant coach that will take him through to the World Cup. He takes over from Dean Ryan, the Englishman who was hired short-term for the RBS Six Nations Championship, and has now moved on to Worcester.
Johnson replaced Andy Robinson, who resigned as Scotland coach in November after losing eight from 11 Tests in 2012, and was appointed on an interim basis through to the summer tour to South Africa. At the end of the RBS Six Nations Championship Johnson stated that it was not certain that he would remain in charge for the summer.
He was brought north by Robinson to fulfil another role within the SRU, not clearly detailed, but which was highly-paid and involved working as a mentor to Scottish coaches, overseeing development pathways and some skills coaching. The SRU still have three key positions they are trying to fill, namely SRU Director of Rugby, Scotland head coach and Edinburgh head coach – and Johnson was a candidate for all three.
But, clearly, the Scotland head coach position brings the most kudos and financial reward. It is believed that Johnson has now agreed to remain in the role and the SRU agreed to give him it with the contract details all that remain to be tied up.
Chief Executive Mark Dodson is known to have studied the candidacy of Scottish coaches for both the head coach and forwards post, but decided that Johnson and Humphreys have more to bring the Scotland camp than any “insider”. He may have been influenced also by Robinson, who, on departing, insisted that Scottish rugby needed more outside influence rather than less if they were to halt the slide in the world rankings and recover the pace being set by the top six nations in world rugby.
“Jonathan impresses us,” said Dodson. “He’s a very astute coach and when you look at the players he has nurtured to the very highest levels of the game then clearly he has much to offer.”
Humphreys is a highly-rated coach in Wales, an honest, straight-talking individual who is viewed as an astute forwards coach with particular expertise in the scrum and lineout. Born in Bridgend, he played hooker for Cardiff and moved to Bath for three years in the English Premiership before hanging up his boots in 2005. He had won 35 caps for Wales between 1995 and 2003, featuring in the 1995 and 1999 World Cups, and captained Wales under Kiwi coach Steve Hansen at the end of his Test career. He returned to Wales in 2005 as a coach with the Ospreys and remained through several changes at the helm, working under Lyn Jones, Sean Holley and Johnson, and was a key part of the Ospreys claiming three Magners League/RaboDirect PRO12 titles and an EDF Cup win.
Neither Holley nor Jones was available to comment yesterday, but his former Bath team-mate David Flatman picked Humphreys out recently when he wrote a newspaper column marking his retirement as a player. “The best player I played with was never especially good at running, catching or passing,” Flatman said. “Jonathan Humphreys, the Welsh hooker, was the most viciously competitive man I ever met. With his body in pieces, he would collide with such venom that, at times, his own team-mates stopped and gawped. The Welsh lads nicknamed him ‘Inspiration’. My rugby hero.”
Humphreys will join the Scotland management ahead of the quadrangular tournament with Samoa, South Africa and Italy in June. Humphreys said: “It’s with a heavy heart that I am leaving the Ospreys after eight years. They gave me the opportunity to coach at the top level and have stuck by me through a lot of change and upheaval.
“I’m very excited by the challenge of working with the Scotland players and management and building on the very solid foundations in place. I know Scott well from Ospreys and it will be great to renew acquaintance with a man who has such a sharp rugby brain.”