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Strokosch is reunited with kindred spirit in coach Ryan

Scotland's management may have shown their touchy-feely side when they allowed Al Strokosch to take paternity leave as they gathered to prepare for the RBS 6 Nations Championship but there will be none of that at Twickenham tomorrow.

Al Strokosch shares Dean Ryan's direct approach. Picture: Craig Watson/SNS
Al Strokosch shares Dean Ryan's direct approach. Picture: Craig Watson/SNS

Dean Ryan, the forwards coach brought in to deliver what he hopes will be a short, sharp shock to the other competing nations as well as the Scotland pack, knows sometime cage-fighter Strokosch well, which doubtless explains his inclusion in the side to meet England in spite of the time out he took.

The pair worked together at Gloucester for two years before former military man Ryan's rather controversial departure in 2009 and the admiration is clearly mutual.

"Because I knew Dean before a lot of the things he's doing are similar to what we did when we worked together at Gloucester so I just put in a bit of extra time this week to catch up," said the flanker.

"Dean's brilliant. I really enjoyed working with him. He's obviously a tough man but he's so positive with the way he gets information across. He's really easy to understand. One of his main strong points is getting across what is in his head and what he wants you to do and being able to make you understand that really clearly.

"He's thorough, that's for sure. He gets all the information he wants out, but because he's here for such a short time there's very little pressure on him and you can see that in the way he coaches us and the way he wants us to play.

"It's basic but it's nice and intense. Dean's Dean . . . he is honest and he'll tell you what he thinks and that will probably never change."

The reality is, too, that in a sport where it is only too easy to over-complicate things certain fundamentals will always apply, particularly when confronting Ryan's native England. Now playing in arguably the world's most physical league, for Perpignan in France's Top 14, Strokosch is a kindred spirit in that there is a directness about the way he articulates himself as well as in his playing style.

"The way I look at it, there's only one direction we can go and that's up," he said of Scotland's current plight, having been whitewashed in this championship and their autumn Test matches last year, sending them plummeting to 12th in the world rankings. "But we are fed up with people saying there's nothing to lose. There is. We've got to put on a performance we can get a result from. Winning's the most important thing."

Strokosch believes it has helped to be in France away from the gloom surrounding the Scottish game, however.

"I think it benefits [the Scotland team] having people from lots of different environments who can bring different ideas and viewpoints together as long as when we get on the pitch we've all got the same idea and the same viewpoint," he said.

"If you're in Scotland the whole time, after what happened in the autumn, you don't get really get away from that down feeling, whereas if we go back to our clubs can be forgotten. You have a different challenge ahead of you and no-one's reminding you of what's just happened."

Strokosch returns as part of a back-three unit who have all had that advantage, lining up alongside England-based captain Kelly Brown and a rather different character in returning No.8 Johnnie Beattie.

Now playing his club rugby with Montpellier around 100 miles up the coast from Strokosch, Beattie has spent his life steeped in Scotland's rugby and general sporting culture as the son of John snr, the former international player turned broadcaster.

He is disappointed that his old man has opted out of commentating on his performance this weekend in what sounds like little more than an excuse to join a party since the elder Beattie is having the weekend off to enjoy a reunion with his team-mates from the last Scotland side to win at Twickenham, in 1983, two years before his son was born.

While he is clearly hoping this time is different, Beattie jnr demonstrated the same capacity to rationalise as his father in considering how hard it has been for Scotland to win there. "Different people have different views about the challenge of going to Twickenham," he said.

"Obviously my father was part of the last side to win there, 30 years ago now. When you talk to him and his pals who played in that game, they are embarrassed that the record still stands.

"But, if you look at the situation the two nations are in, the strength in depth England have, it's an issue. There is a reason why we haven't won there for so long. It's not necessarily the strength of the team, but the strength of the nations behind the teams.

"Look at the sheer volume of players that are in England and everything else that goes with it . . . but it's a tired old cliche to say that rugby is a game of 15 people against another 15 and, given a chance, you can turn over anybody as England did with New Zealand."

It seems, then, that there are lessons to be learned from both the recent and more distant past.

"If you speak to the players from 1983, they felt they had absolutely no chance," Beattie said. "I think most people would give us a slim-to-no chance too, but you just chuck everything at it and hope to be perfect.

"We have to be spot on with everything we do and make them look very average. That's a very tough thing to do in professional rugby, but that's the aim."

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