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What the SRU has cooked up by promoting Johnson is proving hard to swallow

The finest meal I ever ate was in a little mountainside hotel in the eastern Pyrenees.

Scott Johnson has shown a serious failure to understand Scotland's rugby culture. Picture: SNS
Scott Johnson has shown a serious failure to understand Scotland's rugby culture. Picture: SNS

Not that I thought that a fine dining experience was in store when I got there. It was late, I was cold, most of the staff had gone home. The one bloke who was left had clearly honed his meet-and-greet routine by watching Fawlty Towers videos. I can't remember if he actually acknowledged my arrival, but I do recall the one-word response he grunted when I asked about the restaurant. "Fermé."

Now, I'd like to think my crestfallen demeanour melted the ice in his frozen heart, but I suspect he was more concerned that this might be the calm before the storm of a psychotic episode on the part of the cold, tired and hungry Scotsman who had just interrupted his evening. Whatever the reason, he made that strange harrumphing noise that only real Frenchmen can make and told me to go and sit in the bar.

There was a roaring log fire there. A couple of minutes later, Monsieur le Grump came in and started fiddling with some sort of cast iron contraption in the hearth. Satisfied - I don't think happy would ever be the word for him - he then plonked a large lump of steak on it and disappeared again.

More minutes passed. He came back, turned the by-now-sizzling steak over, and left. When he returned for a third time, he was carrying a tray with a few pieces of bread, a small green salad and a not-so-small carafe of red wine. He then lifted the steak off the fire and placed it in front of me.

I don't think he said "Enjoy!" But I did. It was magnificent, and not just because I was famished at the time. This was glorious simplicity on a plate, stripped to a few essential elements and all the better for it.

I was reminded of this experience when I stumbled across a booklet of Heston Blumenthal recipes that came free with one of the Saturday papers. Now I actually quite like the dome-headed guru of molecular gastronomy, and, if I ever find £195 lying around, I'd be happy to pop into his Fat Duck restaurant and treat myself to tea. But my goodness, he doesn't half faff about at times.

Take, for instance, his recipe for crab on toast. You might be forgiven for thinking that this would involve just two ingredients - the clue being in the name - but Blumenthal somehow finds reason to use 19. And while my local Londis crams an impressive range of produce into a space the size of a telephone box, I'm not going to ask if they've got any pickled cucumber dice or 1.5g of kombu powder.

But that, as we foodies say, was just for starters. A few pages on, I found his recipe for liquorice poached salmon. This is the kind of eyebrow-raising juxtaposition of components for which Blumenthal is celebrated, so I was intrigued. But my interest stopped dead when I read the first entry in the ingredients list for the stock: 100g of Haribo Pontefract Cakes.

Why so specific? Why this level of detail? Why not just get a bag of liquorice allsorts, lob in the pure liquorice ones and then gnaw that nasty coconut gunge off the cartwheel ones if you're still a bit short? Why Pontefract Cakes? Why Haribo Pontefract Cakes in particular?

My first suspicion was that Blumenthal had done a deal with the sweet maker, compromising his integrity as a chef by promoting their products at every opportunity. But no, apparently not. There was no mention of Star Mix among the 42 ingredients in his wild mushroom macaroni. His quinoa sushi was not to be served on a bed of Tangfastics.

Which led, inevitably, to another conclusion. In short, that the man who once wowed the world with snail porridge and scallops-with-iPods had turned into a bit of a pillock. That he was being too clever by half.

A bit like most rugby coaches these days. On Saturday evening, as I listened to Scott Johnson try to blind us with science and explain how Scotland's failure to score a single point in two of their last four matches was some sort developmental masterplan, the utter shallowness of it all was striking. Johnson wants us to believe that he has the secret to unlocking a winning formula for Scotland. He wants us to stand back in awe of his sheer cleverness as a coach.

Nonsense, of course. Like so many others in his line of work, Johnson employs the emperor's-new-clothes defence. If we can't see his genius, can't figure out how being stuffed out of sight by our oldest and most bitter rivals is actually a step on the way to global domination, then it's our fault not his. It is the same line of argument that was being dished up by his countryman and predecessor Matt Williams a decade ago. It was utter tosh then and it is utter tosh now.

In fairness, Johnson does not seem to have much enthusiasm for the endless meetings and analysis sessions that characterised Williams' time in charge. But his act - and I use the term advisedly - still depends on a suspension of disbelief. We see a Scotland performance as poor as any in the past decade, and we're meant to swallow his line that we're on the path to Shangri-La.

Whatever message he wanted to convey in the aftermath of that Calcutta Cup defeat, Johnson's combination of flippancy and arrogance signalled a catastrophic failure to understand the rugby culture of Scotland. That would be the same rugby culture for which he is about to assume overall control when he becomes responsible for the development of the wider game.

There is nothing on Johnson's cv that says he is qualified to take the job as Scotland's director of rugby. No-one within Murrayfield has yet come up with a credible explanation of how or why that appointment was made. Even at his wackiest, Blumenthal has never come up with anything as hard to swallow as this.

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