sport

Beattie defends Johnson

Scotland forward Johnnie Beattie has rejected the flak aimed at head coach Scott Johnson, insisting the players are to blame.

The Montpellier number eight is a surprise starter for Saturday's clash with Italy in Rome after the impressive David Denton was chosen to kick off the humiliating losses to Ireland and England which saw the Scots ship almost 50 points while scoring just three.

The painful 20-0 defeat to the Auld Enemy has produced a furious backlash, with angry former players queuing up to criticise Australian Johnson.

British and Irish Lions prop Peter Wright branded the Sydney native a "joker" while 23-cap scrum-half Andy Nicol questioned whether Johnson - who will step up to become the Scottish Rugby Union's director of rugby in the summer when Vern Cotter arrives to take over coaching responsibilities - and his assistants were good enough to lead Scotland.

But asked who was to blame for the first two results, Beattie told Press Association Sport: "It's ourselves, the players.

"We get the opportunity to run out there for Scotland and we have stuffed up twice. We haven't done our individual jobs properly and have paid the price twice.

"That's what it comes down to. It's the boys who take the pitch and who play.

"I understand the criticism. As a Scotland supporter myself, I have been pretty dejected after the last two performances myself.

"I can understand everyone's frustrations and it is easy to see why the reaction has been like it has.

"But as for Johnno and the guys he works with, they are the heads of our team and are running the show, so they are easy guys to take pot-shots at.

"But our group has not changed that much. It's 30 or 40 guys who have been representing Scottish rugby for the last five years, so it's us who take the park, it's us who play.

"Taking pot-shots at Johnno is one thing but realistically it is an easy dig. We as players are the guys who lost the game and that is the fact of it."

Amid the post-mortem of the England defeat - a miserable match which saw a toothless Scotland spend just three per cent of the game in the opposition 22 - former Twickenham boss Sir Clive Woodward claimed the Scots "have never been worse".

But Beattie insists the players still have the fight in their stomachs to match up to the best the Six Nations has to offer.

"No one has said that to me yet," he said when asked about Woodward's claims. "People are entitled to their opinions and I can understand that.

"I have watched 40 minutes from the stands then I have been on the pitch for 30-40 minutes myself and it hasn't gone well. But we need to take what has been said on board and force the team forward.

"It's very easy to get motivated. Coming on and playing for my country is a huge thing for me, so that is never an issue. It's the same with the rest of the guys.

"Granted, the games may have been past us when I have got on, but you still chuck everything at it, knock your pan in and try to get the team moving forward."

Like Scotland, the Azzurri are still searching for their first victory after defeats to Wales and France.

But Beattie does not believe the potential wooden spoon decider will be an easy task for the Scots.

He said: "Every match is essentially a must-win match. We have not put any points on the board from two games but we want to get off the bottom of the table.

"It's the same for Italy, they are in the exact same position as we are, so you can expect a dog fight.

"They have always had a solid platform up front, a solid scrum organised by Martin Castrogiovanni and a solid line-out organised by Sergio Parisse.

"Now they have added a bit more structure in the way they play, they are much more organised with some exciting backs who can hurt you. There are no easy games and we will need to raise our game if we want to beat Italy."