Wednesday 13 December 2017

Johnson wary of Jackson threat as he plays down claims that Scotland will target new boys

Ulster out-half has quality to hurt us if we don't pay him enough respect, insists home side's interim boss

Scott Johnson
Scott Johnson

David Kelly and Andy Newport

Scotland coach Scott Johnson has deflected claims that he would target Ireland's uncapped 10-12 Ulster partnership of Paddy Jackson and Luke Marshall as he seeks to build on an impressive win against Italy.

"We could sit here and try to work out how we're going to exploit things, or just try and get ourselves right," he insisted, after making just one change to his starting line-up, tighthead prop Geoff Cross coming in for Euan Murray, whose faith precludes him from playing on a Sunday.

"We're at the stage of trying to get ourselves right. We can talk about the opposition all day and all night, but the reality is that our ills and our success will lie with our ability, so this week is about us."

And he doesn't believe that Jackson – a shock selection ahead of Ronan O'Gara – will necessarily prove to be a weakness at out-half.

"Paddy Jackson is a good player. When you lose a player, everyone is probably not as closely aware of the skill-sets of the players to replace them.

"Paddy has done good at provincial level; he's a threat. He's a good player. So, in two or three years' time, we may be talking about Paddy Jackson being a quality player in world rugby, but at the moment nobody knows who he is really.

"But we are sure that he's a threat and we are sure that we'll be paying him due courtesy to make sure he doesn't hurt us too much.

"Us coaches see them every week and know that these so-called lesser-known names are quality players."

Johnson (right) also believes that Brian O'Driscoll's defensive qualities will be just as important to Ireland as his undoubted attacking ability.

"Much is said and written about Brian O'Driscoll as an attacking weapon and the wonderful player he's been over the years," said Johnson.

"What's largely not written and said is the fact that he's so good at the contact area. He's fantastic.

"He's world class and has been for a long, long time. I've said for a long time five players on the pitch – the back-row combined with the centres – provide 50pc of your output and they're only 30pc of your team.

"If the back-row and the centres are doing their work, you're in the game.

"So, it's true what they say about Ireland because they're all good at it. So we've got to be extremely good at it. There's got to be a vast improvement on what we did in week two.

"There was improvement but it wasn't vast enough. We've got to get it right.

"This is 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 in the Scottish camp.

Johnson believes his side can continue to improve following last year's Wooden Spoon 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 progress.

"It was a win and we did some good things. 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. 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.

He said: "I can understand what Euan is saying and it's his decision. We move on and get on with it. It's not a complicated situation.

"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."

Scotland – S Hogg; S Maitland, S Lamont, M Scott, T Visser; R Jackson, G Laidlaw; R Grant, R Ford, G Cross; R Gray, J Hamilton; R Harley, K Brown (capt), J Beattie. Reps: D Hall, J Welsh, M Low, A Kellock, D Denton, H Pyrgos, D Weir, M Evans.

Irish Independent

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