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'Winning is contagious,' insists Johnson but 'you have to learn how to do it'

The fortunes of the national football team appear to be on the rise, the Commonwealth Games are coming to town, and the Ryder Cup will put the country at the centre of the sporting universe when its matches get underway in September.

'I like to think we can beat anyone in this tournament, but we need consistency in our performance to do it,' says Scott Johnson ahead of the RBS 6 Nations. Picture: SNS/SRU
'I like to think we can beat anyone in this tournament, but we need consistency in our performance to do it,' says Scott Johnson ahead of the RBS 6 Nations. Picture: SNS/SRU

And with so much hype around the Scottish sporting scene at the moment, it would be criminally remiss not to let Scott Johnson get his oar in as well.

Or, to be more exact, his surfboard. For when the Scotland rugby coach was asked yesterday if his team could capitalise on the national feelgood factor, the surf was suddenly up for Johnno.

"You ride a wave, don't you?" he beamed. "You like to get drawn into it. It gives you confidence. There are good stories to tell there. It's fantastic. The positive stories coming out about the success the nation has had are great and I'm happy to get my surfboard out and ride the back of that wave."

Putting the inevitable, but still unfortunate, image of Johnson in board shorts and Scottish Rugby Union blazer to one side for the moment, the 51-year-old Australian was actually making a salient point as he spoke at the RBS 6 Nations Championship launch in London yesterday. In essence, it was that momentum and confidence will energise Scottish sport this year and that he wants the efforts of his players to be enriched by both qualities.

"Scottish lads they are no different, no different to any other kids," Johnson continued. "That's one of the things I keep saying to Scottish kids. You are no different - no better and no worse. Try hard and train hard and you'll be as good as anyone."

Of course, Johnson would not be the first Scotland coach to suggest that a little more self-belief could take his players a long way, but there is an interesting twist in his analysis. It is not so much a flaw in the national psyche that is the root of the problem, rather a weakness on the national cv.

"I don't think it's a lack of belief," he said firmly. "It's a lack of experience, the experience of doing it. You have to learn to take opportunities.

"Winning is contagious and, once you start to get on a roll, then you start to believe you can do things. You'll knock on the door a few times and, when it doesn't open, you'll get a bit disconsolate, but you just have to work through that. You have to put yourself in the competition. You have to learn how to do it, but we have the gifts to do it. We've just got to do it more consistently."

So far, so Johnno. But the coach-as-counsellor became a little more hard-headed as he considered the more pressing issues brought to light by an autumn Test series in which Scotland lurched from sublime to shocking at times, as if determined to maintain the cosmic smart/dumb balance in the vicinity of Murrayfield. Johnson would be happy to have less equilibrium on that front.

"I like to think we can beat anyone in this tournament," the coach said. "But we need consistency in our performance to do it. In the autumn, we chopped and changed our squad a bit, but there were 10-minute bursts in the games when I was thinking we could beat anyone.

"We've now got a pretty settled squad going in [to the Six Nations]. It's probably not finished in terms of places for the World Cup, but it's pretty settled and now it is about seeing if we can get settled performances too. So we've got to get more consistent performances. I see glimpses of our game and I think we can compete with anyone, but we just want to do it for longer. If we do that and we are competitive in every game then there is growth in our team."

In one area, however, Johnson is confident that Scotland can match any other side in the competition. Time was when Scottish sides would ship cheap points during the final quarter of a game, but the coach is confident that those days are now behind them.

"I keep saying to the players that there are two games in a game of rugby," he continued. "We have to be in the competition at 60 minutes and, if we can do that in all five games, then we will have a pretty good Six Nations. I can categorically say that they [other nations] are not fitter than us. They might be equal, but no one stands out as fitter than us. We're going in with equal armoury there.

"A lot of teams will look at Scotland as a must-win game in this tournament. If we are in games with 20 to go then watch the pressure start. We're happy about that because our 20-minute game is a pretty good one."

Johnson confirmed that Vern Cotter, the Clermont Auvergne coach who will succeed him in the Scotland job in June, will not be joining the Six Nations training squad next week, as had been planned, for family reasons.

He also suggested that the prop Euan Murray, who suffered a thumb injury while chopping wood for a barbecue recently, has not been ruled out of the entire tournament yet, although his frustration was obvious. "Listen, it just goes to show that the British shouldn't do barbecues," said Johnson. "They belong somewhere else."

Possibly on a surf beach.

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