It’s been too long, far too long since Scottish rugby fans have had anything to cheer about. Poor showings in the RBS Six Nations, World Cup, and Autumn internationals have put the national team into a nosedive, that not even the biggest of supporters could see a way out from.
The introduction of Scott Johnson, as Andy Robinson’s replacement as Head Coach two years ago proved controversial, with many fans believing that a home grown coach, such as the then Glasgow head coach Sean Lineen, or assistant national coach Gregor Townsend, should take over. Johnson’s alternative attitude to coaching was at first refreshing, with many fans believing he could spark the change of the fortunes of the Scottish camp. Fans were excited then, when Scotland gained wins against Ireland and Italy, both at Murrayfield, to sit them pretty in third place, their best showing in a number of years.
Scotland had almost full availability for their summer tour, after only three Scots were selected for the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia last year, with exciting prospects Stuart Hogg, Richie Gray and domesticated Kiwi Sean Maitland making the plane, with prop Ryan Grant getting the call as an injury replacement.
Fans were fairly hopeful as the team left for the quadrangular tournament of South Africa, with matches against the Boks, Samoans and Italians. Two losses to the former led them to a third place play off vs the Italians, which they won by a solitary point thanks to a late Strokosch try.
Johnson’s optimistic attitude was starting to wear thin with media and fans. His constant promises of better things to come were beginning to fall on deaf ears north of the border. Then came the announcement of successful Clermont Auvergne coach Vern Cotter as replacement, effective as of June 2014. This decision caused a divide in the fans with some thinking it would be worth the wait, to bring in a successful coach as Cotter, whilst others thought that there was an urgent need for change.
Following a disappointing autumn series, where Scotland scraped to a victory over Japan, collapsed to a loss against the Springboks, and stuttered against the Wallabies. The common view was that the appointment of Johnson the year previously had resulted in being counterproductive for Scottish Rugby. Many believed his one plan approach was failing, as proved against South Africa, when an abysmal attempt at controlling the breakdown failed and no second plan was forthcoming.
There were very few Scottish fans who believed that anything other than a failure was on the cards in the 2014 Six Nations. This was shown with four disappointing performances, when the Scots surrendered to a final day 51-3 thrashing by the Welsh in Cardiff. Worse even than that was the 20-0 Calcutta Cup humbling by England, in which many fans, media and former players viewed as the most depressing time in Scottish rugby’s recent history. The complete capitulation in defence led many to clamour for the end Johnson’s reign, and the chance to start afresh with Vern Cotter.
So what’s next for Scotland? Many see that as long as Johnson is pulling the reigns as Director of Rugby, head coach Cotter’s hands will be tied as to the amount of free reign that he has to experiment. Indeed the problem extends beyond the first fifteen, to the lack of funding for the professional teams, Glasgow and Edinburgh. There is a worrying failing in the ability to hold on to our best players, with talismen such as Laidlaw, Hamilton and Brown, all plying their trade outside of the country. So where will this cycle end? With Scotland seen as a tier two or three nation, best players poached by the premise of big money and trophy success abroad? All are certain; it’s a worrying time for Scottish rugby.