What has become of Scott Johnson’s Scotland?

kelly brown

Scott Johnson had a decent start to his temporary reign as interim Scotland head coach, leading them to third place in the 2013 Six Nations – albeit after only achieving two wins. However, since May 2013, when it was announced that Clermont coach Vern Cotter would be taking over on a full time basis at the end of the 2013-14 season, Johnson’s selection policy can only be described in similar words to those that would be used to sum up the current state of the Murrayfield pitch. A complete mess.

Never is this more obvious than when looking at the way he has treated (former / possibly current / probably future) Scotland captain, Kelly Brown.

In November, Brown, captain in his side’s win over Japan a week earlier, was bizarrely rested for the Autumn International against South Africa. If Johnson was doing his best to manage his captain’s workload, why on earth did he play him against Japan and not the Springboks?

Scotland were completely outplayed by a strong South Africa side and whilst there is no guarantee that Brown’s inclusion would have had an effect on the result, an international captain should never be rested for such an important fixture.

Johnson followed that up last weekend with an even more baffling decision, leaving the Saracens star out of the match day 23 against England, a fixture that every Scotland player looks forward to more than any other. The decision was even harsher considering that Brown had played out of position as an openside flanker in the heavy defeat to Ireland the week before.

While no-one would have been making excuses for what was undoubtedly a lacklustre performance in Dublin, Johnson would have done well to remember that this was an Ireland team that had so nearly beaten New Zealand in the autumn. They have since humbled the 2012 and 2013 Six Nations champions, Wales.

So, we are clearly talking about a team in form here and to drop Brown after that one game doesn’t seem terribly fair – especially when you consider that none of the pack (perhaps barring Dave Denton) performed well.

But Johnson decided that Brown would be the scapegoat.

Justifying his decision to drop his captain before the England game, he said that Brown was a starter or a non-starter, meaning that he holds little value as an impact player and would therefore waste a spot on the bench.

Judging by comments on social media over the weekend most Scotland fans felt Brown should have led the side and started the England game from his favoured blind side position. And when you think about it, what had Ryan Wilson done to suggest he should be selected ahead of Brown? The captain should surely have priority.

It is possible that something has happened behind the scenes in Camp Mudbath that the rugby masses are unaware of, but it appears that this is more down to a very strange selection policy on Johnson’s part.

Brown appeared on the BT Sports Panel show in London on Saturday morning, overcoming fears of public speaking on a 150 minute live TV show despite suffering from a lifelong stammer. He spoke of being desperately disappointed to not be involved in the Calcutta Cup match, but vowed to reclaim his place in the Scotland side.

Johnson does find himself in the unfortunate position of not having much to aim for as interim coach. Cotter has already been lined up as his long term replacement but it is very surprising that the SRU have allowed Johnson to name Brown as captain, rest him, play him out of position and drop him without considering the long term impact on the national team – not to mention on Brown himself.

Other strange selection issues (such as the continued faith in Ross Ford and Jim Hamilton when clearly neither are playing well, or the dropping of Richie Gray from the bench after just one cameo against Ireland – we could go on, but there isn’t the space or time here) also point to the coach’s confused mind.

Cotter will not arrive for another few months but with Johnson also vocally blaming the players, as opposed to his own shortcomings, for Saturday’s heavy defeat against the auld enemy, the damage to the Scotland dressing room could be irreparable just nineteen months ahead of the next Rugby World Cup.

The last Australian in Johnson’s shoes, Matt Williams, can tell you all about the dangers of losing the Scotland dressing room.

Without Brown, Scotland were even worse in defeat against England on Saturday than they were the previous weekend in Dublin. Perhaps Johnson needs a dose of him own medicine and should be relieved of his responsibilities midway through this year’s Six Nations. A strange, un-rugby like move, yes – but one Johnson could ironically empathise with.

By Alastair Pickering (@AMP_Rugby)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

11 thoughts on “What has become of Scott Johnson’s Scotland?

  1. I am slightly biased to being a Saracens fan, but I think Kelly Brown is a superb player that Scotland, under no circumstances, should have been without when playing England last weekend. He is a clearly a great guy as well, and is widely known to be popular in the Scottish dressing room, a fact which makes Johnsons’s decisions look even stranger.

  2. It’s quite simple. Scott Johnson is a politician, not a rugby coach. He is toxic to every team he is involved with. Look at his record with Wales: catastrophic losses to Ireland and France and a draw at home with Italy. He joined the Wallabies shortly thereafter as attack coach and got to watch as they lost to an England side who were way past their prime, and that was possibly the best performance they put in for the 2007 RWC. The way he is treating Brown, and really the entire Scotland rugby team, is farcical. He is one of the worst coaches we have seen in the professional era, making Brian Ashton look like a misunderstood genius. Scotland and Scottish fans need to wait, desperate though it will be, for Vern Cotter to arrive and hopefully start fixing things

    1. I will be having no bashing of Brian Ashton. He set up the England academies that we are currently reaping the rewards from and he had a great track record with bath. He’s just not a head coach. Scott Johnson on the other hand should never be let near a professional sportsman or team again. The guy just seems like a self serving, cynical tosser who has divided the Scotland team. I’m half scot, half English and it spoiled the victory at the weekend due to the scots being so poor. Hogg, gray, maitland, visser, Denton, brown, all good players, all being usd to feed Johnson’s media obsession.

    2. Chuckles, Brian Ashton IS a misunderstood genius.

      To qualify that; he is misunderstood by those who do not know him, or have never worked with him.

      As Jim says, Head Coach is perhaps not his best role, but as a rugby coach, he is superb.

  3. I was nervous leading up to the Scotland match- it has always been a banana skin for England, as the Scots play so much better against us, and the weather and ground conditions looked like working as a leveler. The announcement that they had dropped Brown assuaged all my fears. Baffling decision. Like Robshaw or Wood he is a ‘behind the scenes’, hard working and un-flash back rower who seems to command the respect of all his peers. Excellent captain. Scotland seemed without focus or direction on Saturday and regardless of whether Brown is a better player than Wilson, you can be assured Scotland are a better team with him in than without.

  4. Thoough I agree that Scott Johnson’s treatment of kelly brown is unfare I do not agree that Scotland’s problem lies entirely with the coach.
    Since the start of professionalism and joining the pro12 in 2000 and ending up with less teams than anyone else, scotland has slowly fallen behind the rest it is pure maths Ireland and wales have four teams each developing high quality professional players Scotland has two. to start with the differance was not that visible as the game adapted to professional rugby but now for the last few years it has been showing, If you factor in the foreign players playing in edinburgh you get a nation developing far less players and also there is a lot less competition for places etc…
    I know i’m going to get answers saying according to my theorie japan should be better than the all blacks because they have more pro teams but that is not what i am trying to say, my point is not that scotland has less teams, but that scotland has too few, there is a small but vital difference.
    Scotland is now falling behind even Italy whose div 2 (national excellence something) is almost professional.
    another proof of the fact that scotland is not developing enough good enough players is how many scottish players have been selected to play for the lions in the last two tours compared with the other nations.

    Scotland needs another pro team to stay competitive, if russia can find enough support for ten pro teams scotland can surely find enough for three

  5. I wonder if Vern Cotter is looking rather enviously at his mate from Clermont and Auckland, and wondering just what he himself has let himself in for.

  6. Who was in charge of Scotland last yr, when they finished 3rd was it?

    It’s easy to bash the coach, we all do it methinks. I mean Ashton, whon some here rate, got England to the 07 WC final & his reward? The tin tack!

    However, I don’t understand why Johnson has the Scots running E 2 W e.g. v Ireland, when on 1 occasion the Scottish inside back ran way accross the field before fiing a pass to the winger who simply concertinaed into touch by the ‘D’. Contrast Trimble’s try. It was like comparing chalk & cheese. I mean Oz coaches used to have their backs running ‘inwards’ so as 2 straighten the line, so thsi surprises me with SJ being ‘Strine’.

    I always thought guys like Ewan Murray, Cross, Hamilton were gooduns, so there’s def summat wrong there… & in the coaching.

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