Six Nations 2014: Scott Johnson defends Kelly Brown treatment

Six Nations 2014: Scotland head coach Scott Johnson defends Kelly Brown treatment

Scott Johnson has defended his handling of captain Kelly Brown after the Saracens flanker was recalled to the starting XV to face France on Saturday.

The Aussie was heavily criticised when he axed Brown from his squad following Scotland’s opening Six Nations defeat to Ireland in Dublin, saying he needed to work on certain areas of his game.

After missing the home thrashing by England the dramatic win over Italy in Rome the 31-year-old returns, again at openside—the only position Johnson will consider him for—and takes back the captain’s armband from Greig Laidlaw.

Cue much incredulity and a barrage of questions. The once jovial Johnson is nowhere to be seen, instead it is a rather defensive performance.

“I never said Kelly’s career was over,” Johnson says.

“I thought it was a better fit. I thought this game suits Kelly and Chris [Fusaro, who replaced Brown, but has now been dropped] has done well in there, he was picked for certain reasons and did that, but was exposed to a couple of things too, so it was a good fit.

“The French play the game a bit off the ground and I know Kelly’s skillset – he has done a lot of good things. I don’t think just because we won in Italy we should not be looking at changing the team. I thought it was a better fit for this game.”

Brown admits to being disappointed and upset at being dropped, but Johnson shows little remorse for his decision, one he insists was in the best interests of the team, and repeats his admiration for the former Border Reivers and Glasgow Warriors player.

“We’re in a competitive business and I’m sure he hurt,” he adds. “I want him to hurt. I don’t want him to think that it was any easy decision, I don’t ever want him to think that. It’s a tough world we live in. He’s been consistent in the things that he’s done and said, and around the squad he’s been consistent. It says much about him as a person, but it also says about us that if you’re consistent and in form we’ll pick you.

“Every player you pick you want a performance irrespective of whether they’re picked for the first time, last time or another time. I want Kelly to do the things that Kelly does the best Kelly can and he’s no different to any player on that squad.”

Johnson concedes that dropping Brown was up there with one of the hardest decisions he has
had to make and is again at pains to pay tribute to Brown’s attributes as a person as much as a rugby player, just as he did when he dropped him.

“I take solace in the fact I saw him well before the tournament started,” Johnson continues. “He holds a special place for me because some of the job we do is personal. You come across people that you coach that you not only respect as a rugby player but as a person and you’d like to think that you do it as best you can.

“They’re not nice things to have to tell people. There’s not a day I go home buoyant for the fact that that’s occurred. It would rank up there because of the admiration I have for him as a human being, but I get solace in the fact that I’m trying to do the best for Scotland as well.

“The fact is I just want to look everyone in the eye and say I made the decision I felt was in the best interests of Scotland. You don’t always get it right.

“He wants to get his spot on merit. He’s a special human being, you can’t go away from that, he’s also a great rugby player. It’s a welcome addition back and it’s good for him, but it says a lot about him as an individual and it’s nice for me to sit here and say that about a player you coach. I can’t speak more highly of him as an individual.”

Despite the seemingly rough treatment during the Aussie’s tenure as head coach, which will come to an end this summer when Vern Cotter finally arrives from Clermont Auvergne,
Johnson says he would have been surprised if Brown has decided to call time after 61 caps for country and four tries since making his debut against Romania in 2005.

“That’s not my issue really,” he adds. “Knowing him as I do, I would have been surprised, but I can’t speak on behalf of somebody else and I just go back to the fact that I think he’s a great human being, he’s overcome things in his life, he’s a model for so many people out there and that’s a special thing, so I would have been surprised, but I can’t take that into consideration.

“I’ve just got to look him in the eye and tell him as truthfully as I can.”

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