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Scotland in the second division

NOBODY, but nobody, could have imagined the dramatic climax to this season's RBS 6 Nations Championship as Brian O'Driscoll and his Ireland team-mates claimed the title by the narrowest of margins.

Edging out France meant they finished 10 clear of England on points difference - after each recorded four wins - and were crowned champions for the first time in five years.

It was a fitting reward for O'Driscoll, the world's most- capped player and already holder of the tournament's individual try-scoring record, but it was also desperately hard luck on England, who had been possibly the shock package of the championship, the only team to beat Ireland and almost on their coat-tails in every department.

They came to regret bitterly the moment of inattention that allowed France to steal a win over them in the opening round. They could argue it was all that stood between them and the Grand Slam.

Enough about the success stories, though. Let's talk about Scotland. The hammering by Wales was a dreadful end to a campaign that started badly, and not even the brief taste of honey in the middle did much to enhance Scott Johnson's coaching credibility.

He came into the championship with a team suffering from a year of chop and change, paid the penalty for inconsistent selection and just when it looked as though he might have stumbled into something approaching a rational policy came the car-crash that was yesterday's performance in Cardiff.

It leaves the Scottish Rugby Union in a difficult position. Remember that after the team lost to Tonga - and don't forget they had been unbeaten on their summer tour, whereas this year they lost two out of three - Andy Robinson came into the media briefing afterwards and said: "After a performance like that, there must be consequences."

A few days later he was gone. Johnson is about to go too. But not away from Scottish rugby. Instead, he moves upstairs to become director of rugby. The men who have held the position before may have faded past their best days by the time they took the job but both Jim Telfer and Ian McGeechan had been undoubted Scotland greats, taking the team to Grand Slams. What has Johnson done to compare with that? Zero.

He preserved virtually nothing of the team he inherited, arguing he needed to blood as many young players as he could. At least nobody can fault him on that score, with 14 new caps over the last 11 games, 10 on the summer tour, two more in the autumn and another two in this campaign.

That partly explains why Scotland were so fragile in two-and-a-half of the five games they played. There were glimpses of style, of a willingness to play fast, open entertaining rugby, but all the old failings were there: the tendency to go to sleep at crucial moments; to compound mistakes with more mistakes; to turn turnovers into scores with their inability to react quickly enough.

These and more are all problems that preceded Johnson and he will hand on to Vern Cotter virtually unchanged.

It is the 10th time in 15 runnings of the Six Nations that Scotland have come away with no more than a single win, and the 10th time they have finished in the bottom two, usually with only Italy below them. On that basis, he can claim that he has not made things worse.

He did coach the team well enough to claim a win in Italy -something that Robinson never managed and Frank Hadden, three coaches back, achieved only once in four years - and the all-round play was good enough to deserve a win over France, but it is a brittle kind of rugby that fell apart in the second half against Ireland, the whole match against England and embarrassingly yesterday against Wales.

So a first-class championship, unless you happen to be Scots or Italian. They are increasingly looking like a second division.

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