There is much to be said for the power of positive thinking and so upbeat is Scott Johnson in his approach to solving Scottish rugby’s problems that 15 minutes in his company would convince anyone of his side’s potential for success.
Scotland arrive in Dublin this weekend having achieved their best championship finish in seven years 12 months ago, when they took third place behind Wales and runners-up England. It was not exactly a triumph, more an issue of being less bad than those that limped home behind them, Italy, Ireland and France. Yet with a little more consistency in their performance, their Australian head coach believes they could have the rugby world at their feet.
Johnson has just this championship left to make it happen with Clermont Auvergne boss Vern Cotter set to take over the reins this summer. The Aussie from Western Sydney will stay on by Cotter’s side through to the World Cup in 2015 and having succeeded Andy Robinson as head coach before the 2013 Six Nations he intends to hand over a Scotland side markedly improved on the outfit he inherited. Following on from the wooden spoon Robinson managed in 2012 with Murrayfield wins over Italy and Ireland 12 months ago was clearly an improvement on what went before but after an indifferent November which saw victory over Japan followed by defeats to South Africa and Australia, Johnson was left with the feeling that any further climb along the upward curve would need to be accompanied by some consistency over 80 minutes.
“We’ve got a pretty solid, settled squad going in now. It’s probably not finished in terms of competition for spots for the World Cup, but it is pretty settled and now it is about seeing if we can get settled performances too,” Johnson said “We’re not quite with the big boys yet. We haven’t got ample player resources to pick from. We’re still building a squad and building a team.
“We’ve got to get more consistent performances. You see glimpses of our game and I think we can compete with anyone, we just want to show that for longer.
“If we do that and we are competitive in every game then there is growth in this team.
“I keep saying to the players, there’s two games in a game of rugby, especially when you’re a team like Scotland, and going up to 60 minutes, if you’re in the competition the last 20 are scoreboard pressure and that suits us. So we’ve got to be in this competition at the 60-minute mark.
“And if we’re in it at the 60-minute mark in all those five games we’ve got a pretty good Six Nations.
“A lot of teams will look at Scotland and think this is a must-win game but if we’re in it with 20 to go then watch the pressure start occurring boys. We’ll be real happy about that, that 20-minute game’s a pretty good one.”
Johnson is not a man given to introspection, but Scotland captain Kelly Brown said of him: “I think the main and most important thing is he’s a very, very good coach. He’s got a lot of experience but also it’s his nature. He’s upbeat, he’s positive and he puts a smile on a lot of the boys’ faces. He’s quite a funny guy with the media and he’s exactly the same in the team room.”
Naturally, Johnson is riding a wave of positivity into the Aviva Stadium this weekend.
“I like to think we can beat anyone in this tournament, irrespective of who they are,” Johnson said. “It’s the consistency in our performance that we’ve got to find. In the autumn, we chopped and changed our squad a fair bit, but there were 10-minute bursts in the games when I was thinking ‘we could beat anyone’. Then there was a bit of a lull. We’ve got to get some consistency.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing – Ireland, good side; England, good side; Wales, good side. They’re all good sides. We’ve got to get consistent to be competitive and if we are we can beat anyone, including Ireland.”
The Scots are notoriously bad starters to the Six Nations having won only once on opening day in the first 13 years of the expanded championship. Their away record is just as bleak with just four wins in 35 trips away from Edinburgh. Yet Johnson is naturally upbeat about the prospect of visiting Dublin, where Scotland claimed their most recent away win in 2010 at Croke Park.
“I thought their form in the autumn, there was some really good quality in there,” he said of the Irish. “The old campaigners are back. They threw everything at us bar the kitchen sink in the first half last year and we just closed the door on a few opportunities and took ours.
“That’s what we’ve got to do again. This is going to be a fast game, it will be a really good game of rugby to watch, hold on to your seat belts. With Joe at the helm there will be good intent and it will be a fast-paced game.
“Bring it on, that’s good.”
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