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Kellock may be over 30 but he's not over the hill

The drama was cranked up to the maximum as the newly appointed Scotland head coach was sneaked into Murrayfield through the ice rink car park, then up the back stairs to be unveiled with the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey filling the room.

Scott Johnson is no newcomer to role of head coac
Scott Johnson is no newcomer to role of head coac

For all that it was a foot-shufflingly awkward moment for we press men assembled in the Thistle Suite, at least those responsible for the rather overblown entrance were to be commended for such a demonstration of corporate pride in their new recruit.

That, though, was back in 1999, when the second coming of Ian McGeechan was viewed as something to be excited over, particularly as the Scottish Rugby Union had managed to keep the news under wraps until the formal announcement.

Cut to yesterday and the arrival of an email from the SRU communications team's solitary survivor of those heady days when Scotland were Five Nations champions, offering the decidedly overdue confirmation of Scott Johnson's promotion to the job of head coach, albeit on an interim basis.

The impression was very much that they had felt forced into the admission, since we were told he was not going to be made available to answer any questions until well into the new year.

Since the blast of the final whistle at Pittodrie brought down the curtain on Andy Robinson's time as Scotland coach last month, it has been a rather ignominious little episode in the increasingly sorry history of Scottish professional rugby.

Within days of Robinson's departure it was patently obvious that, in spite of the calls from the sport's great and the good for Sean Lineen, on the basis of his profound understanding of the Scottish professional game, to be recalled from the coaching wilderness, it would be Johnson who was asked to become the caretaker boss.

Lineen's last act as a full-time head coach may have been to guide Glasgow through what was, in that ugly American parlance, the winningest season any Scottish professional team has achieved, but it would have taken very strong leaders to admit, so soon and so spectacularly, to his sacking having been the blunder it was.

While time was not exactly tight, the simultaneous departure from Murrayfield of Graham Lowe, the head of performance rugby, who had been cited as having, along with Robinson, provided the rugby expertise behind that extraordinary decision, meant it was difficult to see anything other than an interim appointment being made ahead of the RBS 6 Nations. That left only one option: Johnson would be Scotland's next head coach.

Far from a ringing endorsement, the second paragraph of yesterday's email noted that: "The announcement was made today by Scottish Rugby's CEO Mark Dodson, who confirmed that the global recruitment search to identify a permanent successor to Andy Robinson is ongoing."

Dodson – he was yesterday travelling back from his latest trans-continental trip on SRU business, apparently pursuing sponsorship rather than coaching candidates – was then quoted as saying: "Scott has a wealth of experience of international rugby, which was instrumental in his appointment earlier this year as our senior assistant coach. He has coached with Australia, Wales and the USA and knows what it is to prepare teams to win on the international battleground. Scott knows our players and coaches well and is determined to hit the ground running with a successful RBS 6 Nations Championship."

How well he knows them is moot and as for knowing what it takes "to prepare teams to win on the international battleground", the evidence from when he has previously been in charge of national teams is far from compelling.

Johnson is certainly among the few in the world game to have experience of being head coach of a national team on an interim basis. He infamously took over at Wales midway through the 2006 Six Nations, following another bizarre episode which, directly after a win over Scotland, involved Mike Ruddock departing his post midway through his bid to defend the title won with a surprise grand slam triumph the previous year.

Wales did not win a game under Johnson's charge; in one of those three games, Italy avoided defeat away from home for the first time in championship history when they secured a draw at the Millennium Stadium.

Thereafter, following a stint with his native Australia – he worked as backs coach during what is considered Down Under to have been nothing short of a disastrous World Cup campaign: one of only two occasions that the Wallabies have ever failed to reach the semi-finals – he had his second stint as a head coach with the US Eagles.

"I want to make it clear that I'm not coming to America to coach as an Australian," he was quoted as saying at that time. "When I'm there, I'm an American. I'm in it for the long haul and I'm really looking forward to getting the Eagles in a position to be a world force."

Little wonder that Nigel Melville, US rugby's chief executive, was reportedly fuming when Johnson quit early in 2009 for a more glamorous job with the Ospreys back in Wales, where he had been popular among some of the bigger name international players.

The USA had won just one of the six international matches under Johnson, four of them Tests, giving him an overall record of one win in seven which in turn makes him one of the few head coaches in Test history with a poorer record than his countryman, Matt Williams, who won three of 17 Tests with Scotland.

It has to be acknowledged that Robinson knew all of that when he asked the Australian to join his staff a year ago and said he was comfortable with the answers he received, the pair having got on well since the Lions tour of 2001, when Johnson was part of the Australia A coaching team that inflicted the first defeat on the tourists for whom Robinson was forwards coach.

Even so, given the current state of Scottish professional rugby and the weight that is apparently being afforded to that solitary Eagles win over Uruguay, it is perhaps understandable that the new man was not made available for questioning yesterday, his public utterances confined to a message in the official statement.

"It's an honour to take charge of the national team for our imminent campaign," he said. "I will be doing everything I can to bring the best out of our players as we all seek to achieve winning performances."

Yesterday's no-show was not, as one wag suggested, because he is going to do the job – as Andy Robinson did – by commuting from his home base and is therefore back in Australia for Christmas.

Johnson will, we are assured, attend both festive inter-city derbies, before working with existing assistant coaches Matt Taylor (defence), Duncan Hodge (kicking and catching) and Massimo Cuttitta (scrummaging), as well as a yet to be appointed interim forwards coach, seeking to come up with the only answers that matter over the weeks and months ahead.

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