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Johnson's succession expected but not a reality . . . yet

The Scottish Rugby Union firmly denied yesterday's claim in a tabloid newspaper that Scott Johnson has – as is widely anticipated – been confirmed as head coach to take charge of the national team for the forthcoming RBS 6 Nations.

The SRU insist that no decision has been made over Scott Johnson.  Picture: David Davies/PA
The SRU insist that no decision has been made over Scott Johnson. Picture: David Davies/PA

The Australian, brought in earlier this year as an assistant coach, has always been seen as the strong favourite to replace Andy Robinson, the man who appointed him, if for no other reason than that it is the easiest option.

As long ago as last week, at a British & Irish Lions gathering, surprise was being registered by senior and clearly well-connected figures in the sport that the announcement had not yet been made. The official line coming out of Murrayfield yesterday was that any such claim remains "speculation" and that no decision is set to be announced or, indeed, has been made.

Until such time as that official position changes; someone with inside knowledge is quoted; or some sort of additional evidence that the expectation has become reality is provided, it will remain the most accurate description of the current situation.

Most of those who must report on this have contented themselves with stating that Johnson is expected to be appointed. So, while the newspaper in question will feel quite entitled to tell us "you read it here first" when the time arrives, it appears not to have done so yet.

The Press Association suggested last night that an announcement is expected in the next couple of days. If so, it would seem curious, as the clash with the derby games would dilute the coverage for one or both. Even if we are all acquainted with the now standard Jo Moores-style approach to public relations – seeking to find an appropriate time to "bury" bad news – surely the SRU itself cannot be among those who would consider Johnson's appointment or, for that matter, matches between its two struggling professional teams, in that light?

Perhaps the remarkable amount of time senior SRU executives have spent out of the country following Robinson's departure a month ago has been a factor in the delay over appointing a successor but the real question should be why there remains a vacancy. We are told that several big-name candidates have thrown their hats into the ring, but also there remains a good chance that the appointment for this season's Six Nations will be an interim one.

Either way, with the inter-city derby matches effectively doubling up as international trials, it would be much better if the new man was in place for these games, the first of which is contested at Scotstoun tomorrow.

For all the reservations about Johnson's past involvement in Test rugby, all of which was highly controversial, he has won admiration from within the squad. Greig Laidlaw, Edinburgh's captain, was the latest to speak fairly warmly of the assistant coach's input yesterday as he discussed the question of whether he is better at scrum-half or stand-off.

"When this all started out, I said I could cover both. I had a good conversation with Scott Johnson when we were in camp. I am what I am. Other players have done it, so why can't I? I enjoy the challenge and whether I play No.10 or No.19, I enjoy the positions and look forward to every game," he said. "He didn't give me any indication.He encouraged me to keep my hand in at both. That's probably [a consequence of] where he's come from, with his rugby background and the way he's been brought up playing the game. I've learned a lot from him, both as a No.9 and No.10."

As noted before in this column, popularity among players is not necessarily an indicator of a coach's worth but, if or when Johnson is appointed, it will provide the latest evidence either of the failure of Scottish rugby to develop its own talent or of a crippling inferiority complex within our society.

Consider that within the context of comments made on either side of the border in the past few weeks.There seems, for example, to have been little criticism of the claim by Rebecca Adlington, the double gold medallist in the Beijing Olympic swimming pool that "If British people do apply and they are qualified, I do think it would work better [the person appointed] being British. [We need] people who live in this country, know how British people work, know the system, know quite a lot of us athletes, know the coaches and can communicate with them. I think it would improve things. It would help communication. I think we would be able to get the ball rolling quicker. It wouldn't take a year to 18 months to get to know the system. They'd know it straight away."

Yet when Alasdair Gray, the leading author and artist, recently commented on the impact of what he called English "colonists" who hold influential jobs in Scotland, the lazy means of undermining serious debate on the issue seems, in effect, to have been to play the race card, with politicians racing to point out how much – with apologies to those wonderful Englishmen who formed most of the Monty Python team – the English have done for us.

As I suspect is the case with Gray, my own problem is not, and never will be, with those who are sensible enough to want to leave their native shores, wherever those may be, to live and work in this beautiful land, but with those Scots who have failed either to develop our own talent or to trust in it.

Meantime, when it comes to the Scott we are expecting to become the latest import to fill a top job at Murrayfield, here's hoping he leaves Scotland a rather more popular figure than he did Wales, the USA or, indeed, even his native Australia after a further tilt at Test rugby.

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