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Comment: A mess we can only fix from within

When the Prime Minister implored them last week to be nice to the Scots to help persuade them to remain part of the Union, England's rugby players were clearly listening.

johnson: like his predecessors from overseas, has demonstrated he does not understand how to make the most of limited resources. Picture: SNS
johnson: like his predecessors from overseas, has demonstrated he does not understand how to make the most of limited resources. Picture: SNS

For their part, a Scotland team which represents a governing body run by an English chairman and chief executive duly ensured that there was no danger of upsetting anyone in the motherland.

On Friday night, during Radio Scotland's rugby programme, I had attempted to reason with an exasperated emailer who got in touch to raise a novel, if flawed, conspiracy theory. "I wonder, could it be that we can't have a Scottish team beating an English team this year, with a referendum coming up?" he asked. I pointed out that there was no referendum in 2009, '10, '11, '12 or '13, in anticipation of the defeat that came the following day.

However, a Scotland team trying to lose would have struggled to look any worse than the one which took the field in Edinburgh. They had absolutely nothing constructive to offer and a more ruthless England might easily have scored 40 points instead of 20 - or 50 or 60, had the surface offered more traction. The match plumbed new depths for the men in dark blue.

Alongside me in the Murrayfield press box, an English rugby writer, a friend of more than a quarter of a century who spent a lengthy spell working in Scotland, observed, some 25 minutes in: "It's very flat in [the stadium] these days isn't it?" Later, when the announcer made one of those trademark SRU requests for silence for opposition goal-kickers, he snorted derisively, suggesting that there was little danger of Scottish spectators making any noise whatsoever.

Repeated Championship and autumn series whitewashings and 'nillings' on home turf have ensured that even those spectators who are not merely school re-unionists turning up for a party have had the fight knocked out of them. Never is their apathy more evident than in the lack of excitement displayed when the time comes for Scotland to attack.

Johnson, introduced to the Scotland fold as a specialist in that department because of its ineptitude under Gregor Townsend, is now as dependent upon the excellence of Matt Taylor - defence coach to both the Glasgow Warriors and the national side - as Townsend has become at the Pro 12 outfit.

His drivel about the naivete of a team that was collectively older and boasted more caps than their opponents is, meanwhile, delivered with a similar accent and as much credibility as the messages we were hearing about Scottish players having to learn how to tackle from scratch a decade ago.

That was when tradition was broken and a first non-Scot, Johnson's fellow Australian Matt Williams, was given charge of the national team. There has never been any question over whether Scotland should recruit foreign playing and coaching talent if it is superior to the homegrown variety, but a succession of imported coaches have now demonstrated that they do not understand what is required to make the most of such limited resources.

A whitewash suffered under Williams in 2004 was the first for 19 years. In 2012, Andy Robinson became the first Scotland coach to suffer two whitewashes in a year. Now another first for a Scotland coach with two 'nillings' in a season, both on home soil - if not grass - in front of bumper crowds.

In the decade since Williams' hideous first season in charge, Scotland have claimed only two wins against England and just one against France. All three were registered under Frank Hadden, a Scot who boasts a unique claim as a Scotland coach who faced England more than once at Murrayfield and never lost to them. He also registered Scotland's only Six Nations win against a France side, the same which had shut out Williams' team two years earlier.

It is now long past the stage when the so-called whistle-blowing group that is the SRU Council should have looked properly at what is going on in a multi-million pound organisation which seems to specialise only in presentation and expectation management. If, for example, there is any real basis for the claim that naivete exists among players who get disproportionate access to the Heineken Cup, given the special status of Scottish and Italian teams, then it is a serious indictment of those in charge of developing talent. Fortunes have been spent on that task, without any apparent consequences of failure for the men at the top who, among other things, defied the clubs (which are supposedly in charge of them) when commanded to introduce an integrated schools and youth club competition four or five years ago.

We have heard how embarrassed, humiliated and apologetic to the nation those responsible are, as they take huge salaries for achieving virtually nothing.

But no more adjectives will suffice - it is a time for action. There is a need to rip up the whole thing and start again if the perennial search for signs of grassroots recovery is ever to be successful.

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Football

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