Old meets new for Johnson

Fri, 08 Mar 2013 09:20
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Scott Johnson's present and past will collide when Scotland play Wales in the Six Nations at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Scott Johnson's present and past will collide when Scotland play Wales in the Six Nations at Murrayfield on Saturday, with both sides still very much in title contention.

The Australian is currently Scotland's interim head coach, a position that could yet well become permanent following their recent back-to-back wins over Italy and Ireland.

Those victories represented the first time in 12 years Scotland had won successive Six Nations matches and strengthened the 50-year-old Johnson's hand following his promotion from within the backroom set-up after former coach Andy Robinson resigned in the wake of their shock defeat by Tonga in November.

In 2006, Johnson was in temporary charge of Wales, with his three games overseeing the fortunes of the Welsh yielding no wins, a draw and two defeats.

Johnson, however, played down talk of having a huge bank of inside knowledge to call upon, saying: "I know them and I have coached them and I was fortunate to live in a country that was so good to me.

"But we are not at a stage where we can bog down on the opposition. We have got to focus on us. Our last performance showed great endeavour and there was great qualities from a human side.

"But from a rugby point of view we have got to work on some things. To be caught up in the opposition is secondary.

"This is not about me, it's about Scotland v Wales and I'm coaching a 23 now that are wearing blue."

Scotland, beaten by Grand Slam chasers England in the first round, are currently level on points with second-placed Wales.

Last time out they defied rugby orthodoxy by defeating Ireland 12-8 despite conceding more than 70 percent possession and territory.

No one, least of all Johnson, believes Scotland can be on the end of such statistics two matches in a row and still come out victorious against Wales.

The coach has made two changes to his starting XV, with Glasgow outside-half Duncan Weir replacing club-mate Ruaridh Jackson and Euan Murray, who missed the Sunday fixture against Ireland on religious grounds, returning to the front row in place of the unlucky Geoff Cross.

Weir played in composed fashion in the crucial final 20 minutes of the Ireland match after coming on for Jackson, helping take some of the strain off goal-kicking scrum-half Greig Laidlaw.

Wales, without injured prop Gethin Jenkins, have made changes to the side that overwhelmed Italy 26-9 in their last match as they bid for a sixth straight Championship win over Scotland.

Sam Warburton, Wales's Grand Slam-winning captain last season, has replaced openside flanker Justin Tipuric in a reshaped back row, with experienced lock forward Alun-Wyn Jones taking over from Andrew Coombs.

However, although Warburton is back after suffering a shoulder injury earlier in the Championship, fellow loose forward Ryan Jones has been retained as captain by interim head coach Rob Howley.

Jones, who has led Wales a record 31 times, took over when Wales beat France in Paris.

"We have had two good, hard-fought away victories, but we know we will have to be at our best again to come away from Murrayfield with the result," said Howley.

"We are bringing in a wealth of experience with Alun-Wyn and Sam."

With the Lions touring Australia this year, one of the intriguing sub-plots on Saturday will be the contest between Scotland's Stuart Hogg and Wales's Leigh Halfpenny, two of the leading candidates to be the combined side's full-back.

Victory for Wales would represent a record fifth successive away Championship success, a feat that proved even beyond their celebrated side of the 1970s.

AFP

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