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Sycophants happy to reward failure . . .

NOTHING says more about the state of Scottish rugby, as those interested in its well-being reflect on yet another dismal RBS 6 Nations campaign, than the guaranteed promotion of the man who coached the national side.

Scott Johnson's promotion to director of rugby should be challenged by the wider rugby community. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS
Scott Johnson's promotion to director of rugby should be challenged by the wider rugby community. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

For any leading rugby nation, one whose administrators genuinely believed that victory at next year's World Cup was achievable rather than merely saying so as part of some sort of misplaced public relations exercise, Scott Johnson's performance over the past two years would have brought the sack.

A member of the Scotland management team in 2012 - the year that brought an unprecedented pair of whitewashes in the Six Nations and the autumn series - his emergency elevation to head coach began with another losing Six Nations campaign.

A year on and his record reads: played 16, won five, lost 11. In a decade in which he has held three head coach posts in international rugby, his overall record is played 23, won six, drawn one, lost 16. Three of those five wins with Scotland were achieved against Italy, as was the draw, registered with Wales in 2006.

Further perspective is offered by that having been one of only two occasions that the Italians have avoided defeat away from home in a Six Nations match. It came the season after the Welsh, under Mike Ruddock, had been good enough to win the grand slam.

That Johnson remains in line to move "upstairs" as director of rugby, apparently with player support - they would say that about a prospective national director of rugby, though, wouldn't they? - is a measure of how expectations have plummeted. So, too, was the talk in some quarters of gutsiness and defiance in Saturday's performance.

Yet Scotland have faced a similar situation before in terms of being down to 14 men against Wales, and then, arguably, their prospects were decidedly worse.

Eight years ago, Scott Murray's departure left Frank Hadden's side with an hour to negotiate against a Wales team that had won the grand slam the previous year - and would do so again two years later - yet the Scots were beaten only 28-18.

Setting aside the fabled strategic target of winning the World Cup next year - when I specifically asked him last year, Mark Dodson, Scottish Rugby's chief executive, said he did know the difference between strategic and aspirational targets - the treatment of Johnson speaks to the lowering of expectations and standards across Scottish rugby.

It is hard to say whether the rendition of Flower of Scotland belted out by the kilted supporters caught on camera in the closing stages in Wales was defiant or ironic.

Either way, for it made for as uncomfortable viewing for any true competitor as the lap of honour in Rome's Stadio Olympico with which Scotland celebrated their avoidance of the wooden spoon a week earlier.

"It was a welcome win but seeing the chief executive and chairman dancing on the touchline at the end was embarrassing," one Scottish Rugby Union Council member admitted to me.

As for Saturday's events taken in isolation, the seriousness of the situation is not helped by the determined reasonableness of the punditry. Only Chris Paterson, who worked tirelessly to be positive about Scottish players individually and collectively, can know just how compromised he is in his dual role as SRU ambassador and BBC co-commentator.

Andy Nicol, though, has been around for long enough to come up with something better than seeking to mitigate Hogg's offence by claiming he is "not that sort of player". Sorry, Andy, he did it, which makes him exactly that sort of player. The key question is: why?

Just as the Scottish rugby community should be demanding to know how its money is spent, so licence payers should expect more in the way of analysis.

Was it, for example, evidence of a lack of discipline within the squad; or the result of too much of the sort of pandering management that allows players to forget their responsibilities; or an expression of the frustration of a talented player who is finding it difficult to cope with what is happening?

It is unfair to single out Nicol, though, because the Scottish rugby media and public as a whole should have offered far more scrutiny of what is going on long before now and, while they are the most obviously culpable, it is not just the players and their management who should be examined.

It is evident in the apparent need to depend upon players who have experienced far, far more in the way of failure than success in a Scotland jersey - some have played more than 50 times losing more than twice as often as they have won - that there is a pitiful lack of quality raw material.

Earlier this month, I was sent a message from a group seeking to re-establish the old Caledonia Reds as a third professional team on the basis that it would generate more opportunities for Scottish players.

In the meantime, greater realism is being provided by the eminently sensible Alan Solomons, the South African head coach of Edinburgh, who has realised that there simply is not enough quality available and he must build a team based around imports to provide a platform.

Thereafter, the best homegrown products to emerge from a properly-constituted academy will gradually be fed into a competitive squad.

This comes, though, after almost two decades of professional rugby during which no part of the game has seen real growth except the amount of money being paid to administrators, many of whom have been involved in the community and development side of the sport for much of that time.

Just as players enjoy being told what they want to hear - it explains why they may be keen to hang on to coaches who tell them how good they are no matter how poorly they play - the same applies in many failing organisations where senior executives surround themselves with sycophants. For years, I have pointed out that there is a problem in the SRU where those who consider themselves the great and the good reinforce one another while ignoring or shouting down external criticism.

Johnson's promotion under Dodson's leadership seems destined to ensure that remains the case, unless the wider rugby community can find a way of addressing it.

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