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Look to Rugby, Rafa

Ralph Ellis urges Rafa Benitez to take note of another "interim" head coach, albeit in the Six Nations, in the shape of Scott Johnson of Scotland, who has transformed the team's fortunes.

Rafa Benitez can moan all he likes, but it isn't always a mistake to describe somebody as the "interim head coach." 

It may not be working for Chelsea, but switch sports to Rugby Union and there's a very different story to tell.

Last year Stuart Lancaster was handed the reigns of the England team on a short term basis after the debacle of the Rugby World Cup, and rose to the situation superbly. He ignored his temporary status to act like a permanent manager, wasn't afraid to tackle the issues within the dressing room to change the culture around the camp, and a year on he's still moving things forward.

England's players liked his approach when he took charge, and they like it more now he's here for keeps. Ben Youngs, for instance, is talking today about the impact of sports science guru Matt Parker, recruited by Lancaster from British Cycling, who has taken fitness to a new level. Youngs claims England are now the fittest team in the RBS Six Nations tournament, and the evidence of the performance in the last quarter of wins against Ireland and France supports his claim.

A year on from starting work with a caretaker, England are now trading as the (1.62) Six Nations Betting favourites to complete a Grand Slam (not bad if you followed my suggestion before the tournament started to back them @(7.00)!!).

North of the border there's another "interim head coach" who's not doing so badly. If I'm bragging about backing England for a Grand Slam then there's humble pie over the Scots, because I tipped them to lose to Italy and to collect the wooden spoon. Instead, Aussie Scott Johnson has transformed their performances.

A four-try triumph over Italy was a good way to turn the tide, but it was Sunday's 12-8 win over Ireland that was truly impressive. It was a result gained by gritty defending, by gutsy determination to hang on to a lead in the face of fearsome late pressure. And in two games it has totally changed the atmosphere of Scottish rugby.

The Scottish RFU have announced they have sold out all 67,144 tickets for next Saturday's Murrayfield clash with Wales, and there's a new confidence running through players as well as fans. The players clearly like Johnson's approach, and Greig Laidlaw, who kicked all their points against Ireland, is already calling for him to get the job permanently.

The Scots are a generous looking (3.15) to beat Wales next week, and on the evidence of the tournament so far that's a decent bet.

Wales bragged around the time of the last World Cup that they were the fittest side in the Northern Hemisphere, and were happy to show people round their Spartan training camp in Poland, and talk of ice chambers and gruelling runs. But the Scots are clearly now every bit as capable of going the full 80 minutes of a Test match, and in front of their own fans with confidence rising they have every chance of pulling off another victory - and another triumph for their interim head coach.



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