independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

We won't underestimate new look Ireland, says Scots boss Johnson

Scotland's interim head coach Scott Johnson
Scotland's interim head coach Scott Johnson

SCOTLAND interim head coach Scott Johnson has promised his side will not underestimate an inexperienced Ireland team in this Sunday's RBS 6 Nations showdown.

Ireland boss Declan Kidney has been forced to make five changes to his injury-hit line-up that will start at Murrayfield this weekend.

But he has surprised many be opting against selecting the out-of-form - yet highly experienced - Ronan O'Gara and instead picking Ulster fly-half Paddy Jackson for his first cap.

Ulster centre Luke Marshall will also make his first Ireland appearance as Kidney adjusts his squad following injuries to centre Gordon D'Arcy, wing Simon Zebo, fly-half Jonny Sexton and lock Mike McCarthy as well as prop Cian Healy's ban for stamping on England's Dan Cole in their last Six Nations outing.

Johnson, on the other hand, makes just one alteration to his starting XV following their 34-10 victory over Italy, replacing tighthead prop Euan Murray - who refuses to play on Sundays on religious grounds - with Geoff Cross.

And the Scotland coach is confident the players coming in for the Ireland clash will be of a similar level to those they replace.

He said: "We know the players coming in. Their form regionally has been superb and these kids are good players.

"Sometimes what happens is that (people) expect the 'known names' to be a massive, massive loss. But what (people) probably don't know is the 'no names' and how good they are.

"Us coaches see them every week and know that these so-called lesser-known names are quality players. This is a genuine Test match, a quality Test match against a formidable opposition who will come here buoyed by years of achievement here.

"We understand what we are up against - we are not deluding ourselves - and we understand that what was good enough against Italy won't be good enough against Ireland."

Ireland last tasted defeat in Edinburgh back in 2001 and since then have racked up five successive victories on Scottish soil.

But the win over Italy has raised confidence - if not expectations - in the Scottish camp.

Johnson believes his side can continue to improve following last year's Wooden Spoon campaign under predecessor Andy Robinson, but will not be taking anything for granted.

He said: "Continuity of selection is important up to a point. We had a good look at the team after the Italy game because we're not just going to take the win. It shouldn't take a loss for us to make changes.

"We really did take a good look at the whole personnel and there was enough there to say we had made a bit of progression and we will take it again.

"It was a win and we did some good things. But it's not the end result. We have got the ability and potential in this side to hurt some teams but we have got to do it consistently. It was one win but let's not get carried away with it."

Two wins over Ireland in the 13 years since the championship was expanded to six teams is not a record to be proud of.

Johnson, though, does not expect a determination to overturn that historic slump to be the main motivating factor spurring on his men.

He said: "Motivation to me is showing improvement within yourself. Even with me on the treadmill, if I can see I am running faster than I was the day before, I get back on it.

"So that encourages people. All the other stuff is secondary. The reality is we can only keep testing ourselves and wanting to get better. If we take that attitude, time will give us a pretty good team."

The one change Johnson has made was forced upon him by Murray's strict Christian faith.

The coach has no issue with the Worcester forward's decision, and acknowledges Cross could well benefit from his choice to observe the day of rest.

He said: "I can understand what Euan is saying and it's his decision. We move on and make ours. We get on with it.

"It's not a complicated situation. It's black and white for me.

"As for Geoff, well he's got to scrum - that's what he has been picked for. He's been picked because we deem him strong and that he has shown that when he has played international rugby, he can hold up a scrum.

"It's important that he does that role. He's been brought back and we trust him to do so. If he does his part well we will be happy and evaluate it from there."

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