Scott Johnson says he is hoping to write a new chapter in Scotland’s history as he takes charge of the national team for the first time this Six Nations. Scotland seem to continually flatter to deceive at this time of year. They often play well, and are rarely blown away anymore, and yet you struggle to remember the last time they didn’t finish in the bottom two.
Last season, they very nearly beat France and England, before falling to a disappointing defeat in the final round against Italy, confirming that they would be taking home the wooden spoon. The last year has very much reflected this pattern. After a superb summer tour, in which they went unbeaten and included a win against Australia in Australia for the first time in 29 years. After that, however, came a woeful autumn that saw them blown away by the All Blacks and South Africa, and beaten by a plucky Tonga side.
As an Aussie, though, Johnson remains bullish about Scotland’s prospects. “We are the poor little boys on the block, and we are happy to go in as poor little boys on the block. But rest assured, come game time we will not be poor little boys.”
He is adamant that the past should remain in the past. “History is someone else’s history; we’ve got to create our own. We’ll go in with a new view, and disregard what’s gone in the past.” And he is keen to start this new future straight away, against England at Twickenham. “Despite what people think, we are going to turn up to this game – we aren’t going to cancel it. We are coming. We are keen to go.”
Johnson’s selection for the tournament also signals the fresh start he wants to usher in. The majority of the squad have come from Glasgow, reflecting their fine form in the RaboDirect Pro 12, while there is as always a healthy smattering of player plying their trade abroad. There are 10 uncapped players in the initial squad, and at the forefront of these with regards to public interest is New Zealand-born winger Sean Maitland.
Kelly Brown admits that he has brought a sense of excitement to the squad. “A guy I’m really looking forward to seeing is Sean Maitland. He’s got some serious wheels, and if we can give him a bit of space it will be really exciting.” However, the real interest so far has come around his nationality. Unsurprisingly, Scott Johnson isn’t bothered. “When I spoke to his dad he was standing in a kilt. Everyone thinks Sean comes under this grandparent rule, but Sean’s father is Scottish and they take great pride in being Scots. Sean used to wake up as a kid to watch Scotland in the Five Nations, as it was then. So I think you can overcomplicate things. This kid has a proud Scottish heritage, and he would be offended if anyone questioned that.”
As has become the Northern Hemisphere coach’s wont at this time of year, Johnson maintained that there were plenty of positives to take out of the autumn defeats. “We did some good things against some formidable opposition in games one and two, against two vastly underrated sides in New Zealand and South Africa,” he comments wickedly. “We did some good work. We didn’t get the result we wanted against Tonga, and we’ve got to acknowledge that. But also, the world order is probably changing, and these Polynesian sides are now quality rugby teams.”
Whilst Johnson’s positivity is admirable, the truth is that, Samoa aside, they’re not quality rugby teams, they are a combination of quality players thrown together at short notice with little time to prepare. Scotland should, unquestionably, have beaten Tonga at home.
This Six Nations is, as is the case for every team, a crucial one. Every nation has their critics to answer, but Scotland’s have had the most to shout about in recent times. How the players and fans alike would love to have an excuse to shove it all back in their faces. The noises they are making all sound right, but then that is always the easy part. To reverse a losing trend with a new coach, captain, and squad full of rookies? That is considerably more difficult. Good luck to them.