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Johnson's 35-man training squad for Six Nations has a distinctly west-coast feel to it

All roads lead west for the Scotland squad next week, but for the vast majority it will be a very familiar route that is being followed to the pre-Six Nations Championship camp in Glasgow.

Johnson has named 25 players with past and present connections to Glasgow Warriors. Picture: SNS
Johnson has named 25 players with past and present connections to Glasgow Warriors. Picture: SNS

The make-up of the 35 players listed yesterday as representing the country's "form and future" international players was quite extraordinary in the extent to which it looked towards Glasgow Warriors present and past, 25 in all, almost three times as many produced by Edinburgh. All the moreso because Scott Johnson, as interim head coach, was appointed by Andy Robinson who had taken charge of Edinburgh when he arrived in Scotland in 2007 and, as recently as two months ago, had built the team for what proved his last campaign with the national side around players he worked with in the capital.

Johnson, however, has indicated that he and his new management team are dealing with what they see for themselves and have sought to disregard preconceived ideas.

They have consequently produced a selection which represents an extraordinary endorsement of the work done in identifying and nurturing talent at the western end of the M8 in that time, in turn calling into question, once more, the decision to overhaul the team's management last year.

In particular, while Glasgow's performance in Europe this season has subsequently been their worst for eight years, Johnson is clearly seeking to rely on the resilience they have developed during that period and now, admittedly, enhanced by Matt Taylor, the defence coach who joined them and the national side this season.

"I think big games are won on good defence," said Johnson. "We've got two pro teams that are defending slightly differently to each other and we've got to make sure our defence is first class. Before we worry about anything else we've got to be hard to score against. "That's one of the great things I've really enjoyed about Glasgow this year, they're hard to beat, very hard to beat and I want Scotland to be hard to beat. So, therefore, it's about focusing on us and making sure we've got that right. We've got to have a standard there that we're happy with." A glance at the current RaboDirect Pro12 table is sufficient to leave no doubt about Glasgow's superiority in terms of the present, but even more significant, looking to the future, is the presence of nine Warriors among the 10 uncapped players who have, for the most part, been included with an eye on development. Most striking among those is Sean Kennedy, the Stirling County product, who has been with both pro teams and so far had little game time with them, but has done enough to catch Johnson's eye.

He is not really a Six Nations contender but with Mike Blair having retired and Chris Cusiter on the injured list more value is seen in looking at him, rather than Rory Lawson, the third of the scrum-halves who captained Scotland under Robinson, as an under-study to clubmate Henry Pyrgos and Greig Laidlaw.

The latter meanwhile looks set for an extended run in his best position after a year of fine service for club and country at stand off.

"Look, we knew who one and two were in the half-back positioning and I thought that with Cus out as well, it gives an opportunity to see this boy who has been impressive in a lot of the performances we have seen and even in training," Johnson explained. "He possesses a skill set that we think 'okay, he i s one for the future'. I think it is an appropriate time to bring him into the squad and see how he handles it and see how he stands up in the environment as a young fellow. That is a big thing going forward and a big thing for him."

"We made a decision going forward that Greig is probably a nine-stroke-10 rather than a 10-stroke-nine. He has a skill set that allows him to do both a la a lot of the French nines. His skill set allows you to do different things and that is probably how he suits Scotland going forward and himself. It doesn't mean that he can't play 10 but it probably means we'll view him as a nine first.

"Greig's a special bloke. He's a terrific lad off the field, he's got drive, he's competitive, he's everything you want in an athlete or a rugby player. He's everything you want, so finding the best position that suits him, that's what we're trying to do. I think nine's probably the best in international rugby for him."

In the absence through injury of Barclay and Rennie the only specialist openside in the squad is the uncapped Chris Fusaro, but that by no means makes him a certain starter against England since Johnson could put Brown in at No.7 and has been impressed by Rob Harley's performances there.

"If you'd asked me that about six months ago I would have said no, but the reality is I think his performance is very, very good," said Johnson. "He's played seven very differently. I've coached some great sevens in my time and been very fortunate to see how they play rugby and they all play it differently. Rob plays differently but he's effective and I think his form over the last month has been very, very good."

Johnnie Beattie may, meanwhile, have benefited from regaining his best form with his new club Montpellier at just the right time.

"I've tried to be independent," said Johnson. "I think everybody had views on Johnnie and I was trying to be as objective as I could. I thought his form was very good and he provides a little difference that we don't have a lot of in Scotland. He's got a wonderful skill set and I think he's done really, really well to go to a strong rugby team in France and compete and dominate in his position. I think that says a lot about his character and I think that's a good thing for us."

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