Under-fire Johnson stands firm
Under-fire Johnson stands firmSHARE
Scotland coach Scott Johnson insisted the barrage of criticism that has come his way in recent weeks would have no effect on him as he prepared the side for their Six Nations encounter with fellow strugglers Italy.
The Scots will kick-off in Rome's Olympic Stadium having conceded nearly 50 points in all and scored a mere six during heavy opening defeats by Ireland and England.
This month's 0-20 Calcutta Cup loss at Edinburgh's Murrayfield ground was a particular low, representing the first time since 1978 that Scotland had failed to score a point in a match against arch-rivals England.
Johnson's repeated references to Scotland's "naive" play and argument that he wasn't taking the "easy" option by building a team for the future sparked a furious reaction from fans, pundits and ex-players starting to weary of the Australian's penchant for one-liners.
Former Scotland prop Peter Wright labelled Johnson a "joker" while Clive Woodward – a thorn in Scotland's side both as an England player and coach – claimed the current Dark Blue team would struggle to beat any of the 12 clubs in the English Premiership.
But Johnson, speaking after unveiling his team to play Italy on Tuesday, said of the criticism: "I haven't given it a second thought to be honest.
"All I care about is the team – did we perform well? We didn't. Should we be disappointed? Yes we should," added Johnson, due to become Scotland's Director of Rugby at the end of the season when New Zealand's Vern Cotter arrives from French giants Clermont to take over as coach of the national side.
"It's amazing – the people that judge you the most know you the least," explained Johnson. "I am happy with who I am. I ain't changing. And I don't really care what they say about me.
"Everyone is entitled to their opinion, I'm not going to hold it against them. The people I care about are the people that are close to us."
But Johnson admitted the only sure-fire way to silence the doubters was by improved results on the pitch.
"At the end of the day, we have got to do better. The best way to close critics' mouths is to perform."
Johnson has made three changes, all in the pack, for the match against an Italian side renowned for its forward strength.
While it was no surprise that Scott Lawson came in for Ross Ford after his fellow hooker's erratic line-out throwing display against England, or indeed that giant lock Richie Gray returned to the second row in place of Tim Swinson, Johnson's decision to drop David Denton – one of the few Scots to have impressed this season – and start Johnnie Beattie at No 8 raised eyebrows.
"There is a lot that we like about Dave with the ball, but it's not the same without it," said Johnson by way of explanation. "We want the same energy from him with and without the ball."