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Nicol claims Lineen's inside knowledge could revive Scotland's ailing fortunes

Andy Nicol, the former Scotland captain, believes that Sean Lineen's understanding of the domestic game makes him the obvious candidate to take over as the national team's head coach.

Sean Lineen is considered the best man for the job by many in the rugby community
Sean Lineen is considered the best man for the job by many in the rugby community

Some bookmakers were yesterday tipping Nick Mallett, the former South Africa and Italy coach, as favourite for the post while Scott Johnson, only recently appointed Andy Robinson's assistant, is also being quoted as a serious contender.

However, Nicol, part of the BBC commentary team covering Robinson's last game in charge as the team were defeated 21-15 by minnows Tonga at Pittodrie on Saturday, noted that bringing in an outsider runs the risk of using up valuable time as he get to grips with the Scottish scene.

"My concern is that any time there's a vacancy the same names are thrown around, but we've got to work out what we need," he said. "I know Sean wasn't universally popular with the players at Glasgow but what coach is?

"It needs to be someone who understands the game inside out, not someone who is using the first year working out the strengths and weaknesses of our game."

Nicol acknowledged that the matter is complicated by the fact that Robinson had only recently appointed Johnson, who worked with him for the last six matches, and Matt Taylor, who has been the defence coach for only the last three, but said the nature of the role may also need to be reassessed.

"We also get into the question of whether you are appointing a head coach, or a manager?" he pointed out. "You need a coaching team but this is not like Queens Park Rangers where Mark Hughes and his coaching team depart and Harry Redknapp can come in with his entire coaching team.

"There are still financial issues in Scottish rugby which is why we had a situation where Frank Hadden came in and had to work with Matt Williams' coaching team, then Andy Robinson came in and had to work with Frank's, so has only recently appointed his own team."

Having been a national team head coach, albeit with what might most kindly be described as mixed results, Johnson has some experience of the Scottish scene, while Nicol understands why some will call for Mallett to be appointed.

"I have always admired Nick Mallett, who is a statesman," he said. "I thought he would get the England job last year because he has that gravitas, but whether he is the right character for the Scottish job is another matter because of that need to understand our game.

"I also wonder if Wayne Smith [the former All Blacks head coach and their World Cup-winning backs coach] is in the mix. He was here recently [working with the pro teams] and he talked about his family being from Peterhead. From a coaching perspective, he is of a very high calibre."

Nicol has considerable sympathy for Robinson with whom his own career was inextricably linked. The Scot was Bath's captain when the Englishman claimed his greatest success as a head coach – Bath were the first British team to win the Heineken Cup in 1998 – while Robinson was also England forwards coach the day Nicol led Scotland to one of the sport's greatest upsets, when they avoided a Six Nations "whitewash" and denied their opponents a grand slam by winning the 2000 Calcutta Cup.

He accepts, though, that the time was right for change. "I think it was inevitable that Andy would go. He had a very strange record, doing so well on summer tours and, until this series, in some autumn Tests, but his Six Nations record was poor," said Nicol. "Over the last two weeks, I've spoken to him and heard his comments and there was clearly a game-plan that was not executed against both South Africa and Tonga. It seems there was a disconnect between players and coaches and you can question whether that means he had lost the changing room.

"There was a lot of talk about the way changes were made at half-time in the South Africa game, but it was obvious after 15 minutes of the first half what needed to be done. I don't know if there was a lack of tactical awareness or understanding but I think the players need to take a lot of responsibility, too."

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