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Johnson: I like my captains to get their hands dirty

Having taken on a job he said he had no designs on, Scotland's interim head coach claimed yesterday to have identified like-minded support in seeking to build a Caledonian version of Plato's Republic at Murrayfield.

The new Scotland captain Kelly Brown ticks all the boxes for Scott Johnson. Picture: SNS
The new Scotland captain Kelly Brown ticks all the boxes for Scott Johnson. Picture: SNS

Scott Johnson admitted recently that when asked to replace Andy Robinson, who had recruited him to the national team's management, he had done so slightly reluctantly, but in announcing that Kelly Brown would be continuing as captain he seemed, inadvertently, to outline why that could prove a good thing. The Australian likes to portray himself as a rough and ready sort but demonstrated himself to be something of a deep thinker, too, when explaining how the philosophy of Socrates, as championed through his disciple's writings, had informed his discussions on leadership with forwards coaches Dean Ryan and Steve Scott.

"Dean and Steve have not had a lot of time with the squad [but] it would be improper of me not to seek their counsel," said Johnson.

"I spoke to them and quoted Plato of all people, saying 'Choose someone with leadership qualities who does not want to lead.' I quite like that."

Just what Ryan – a former Royal Engineers corporal - and Scott – known in his playing days as "Bull" – made of all that is open to conjecture, but Johnson has a way of ensuring that his messages are readily digestible. "When you look at parliamentarians nowadays I think he [Plato] got it pretty right," he went on. "It is a pretty good base to start from. You look at the qualities of the person first."

As to whether such principles should apply throughout the organisation for which he now works Johnson was uncharacteristically diplomatic. "I don't want to go there," he said, flashing a grin.

If that should keep him right with his bosses he was, strangely, less reticent when he drew comparison with his domestic situation.

"When you sit in a room and human dynamics . . . it's a bit like even my wife, she talks a lot and you tune off after a while don't you? That's what happens," Johnson observed. If you're hearing the same voice all the time it loses its potency and it loses its edge."

It would certainly seem, then, that a near reckless bravery will be the hallmark of this regime. However, there was a serious aspect to all of this banter as it related to Johnson's endorsement of the man Robinson wanted to make his on-field leader a year ago and who finally, after recovering from the injury that ruled him out of that Six Nations campaign, has made it.

"My view on captaincy may not be everybody's cup of tea but I like doers. I don't like the big talkers," Johnson explained.

"The best captains I have worked with in the past have got their hands dirty and show the way. I have a reluctance for callers to be captains."

By that he means that he does not want to over-burden any one individual with having to lead the team as well as making the routine on-field calls at lineouts, scrums or in deciding upon back moves.

"Lineout callers are leaders in their own right and I think if they're in the backs and they are the chief caller you hear their voice so often," he said. "A captain's job is to go on and work and probably be the judge or jury if there's a conflicting version of events. Therefore I like the clean eyes of that. Someone who sits in a position that doesn't have other responsibilities. I like the balance of that, so the room is not just dominated by one voice."

Johnson added that he is not dogmatic in this, noting he has encountered exceptions to this philosophy, but also pointing out that the captains he has known who have also been departmental callers have been men of action.

"In my experience, if they are the callers and play a dominant role and their thing is not going well then it is harder for them to get everybody together collectively. I like someone who sits outside that, I do. I have gone down this path before. There are some personalities who you think can do both. I worked with some great captains like John Eales and George Gregan. I have sat on the sidelines and watched Martin Johnson, who I thought was a great leader of men.

"What is common among all these people is that they did not say a lot but they did a lot. I quite like that as a model. We get caught up in being demonstrative for the crowd and I don't want that. That does not represent Scotland and that does not represent what I want from the team."

For Brown, who has recovered magnificently in recent years from having been a lifelong stammerer, almost by default becoming a practised listener before emerging as a considered and engaging speaker when he does have something to say, that was just what he wanted to hear.

"I just lead as me. I cannot lead as anyone else," said the Saracens flanker. "In the past I have been led by some good captains but I need to lead as myself. Johnno said he did not want someone who speaks a lot. That is absolutely perfect.

"I would like to think that is my natural game . . . being a doer. I'm never one for standing up and saying we are going to do this and that. It is just a case of doing my job out there. For me, action speaks louder than words."

In saying so, he added that the extent of his disappointment at the outcome of his first stint as captain, the autumn Tests in which Scotland were "whitewashed" ending with a dreadful defeat by Tonga, had resulted in him delivering a message to his men that he believes they have responded to.

"I told them we all had to go away and improve," he said. "All the guys have done that. We are in a better place and stronger place. There is a lot of work to be done and we are striving to improve."

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