SCOTLAND have been told they must do without Vern Cotter as their new head coach in a full-time capacity until June 2014.
Clermont Auvergne confirmed that the New Zealander plans to fulfil his contract in France, although they will allow him special dispensation to assist Scotland in next season’s Test matches.
The SRU always knew they may have to wait for their long-term successor to interim head coach Scott Johnson and Andy Robinson, as Cotter’s contract runs until next summer.
The New Zealander asked Clermont President René Fontes two months ago whether he might be released early from his contract and was told that was unlikely. However, a more imminent departure seemed possible when criticism by Cotter of Clermont players, in their defeats by Leinster in the Heineken Cup Final and Castres in the Top 14 semi-final, provoked an angry response from Fontes. The long-time friend of Cotter said he had been shocked by the comments and unhappy with the Kiwi, and poured fuel on the fire by suggesting that Cotter had tendered his resignation.
Cotter, appearing at Murrayfield last week for an SRU media conference on the day his criticism was published in France, was taken aback by Fonte’s suggestion and confusion reigned. Fontes summoned the Clermont board to a meeting yesterday to discuss Cotter’s future and one potential outcome was for Cotter to be sacked.
However, after Cotter met with Fontes and new club president Eric de Cromières, the waters calmed and the coach will honour his contract at the club.
Cotter will, however, be allowed to work with Johnson during the autumn Test window and the 2014 RBS Six Nations Championship. It is unknown whether that will be close at hand at Murrayfield or in short stints. However, it could yet transpire that Clermont will find a replacement for Cotter in the next six months and let the New Zealander go.
The French club said in a statement: “A meeting of the board of ASM Clermont Auvergne was held to analyse the repercussions of the declarations of its head coach to the press. The President René Fontes, his successor Eric de Cromières and the board of directors unanimously support the proposal of Jean-Marc Lhermet, sport director and vice-president, to maintain Vern Cotter in his current role for the season 2013-14.”
Cotter added: “My intention has always been to take the club forward, and was never to harm anyone at ASM Clermont Auvergne. I regret having taken out my frustration on the players and the club. There was clumsiness on my part and more misunderstanding because the affair attracted lots more media interest than it might have done [had he not been the new Scotland coach].
“As I have said to everybody, I now have only one desire: to draw a line under last week and turn my focus to the new season where we will have great ambitions. I’m going back home to New Zealand for 15 days and will get some new ideas that will benefit the club on my return. I am pleased that the club trust me for next season and I am very determined to finish my Auvergne adventure beautifully.”
That leaves Johnson in charge of Scotland next season, alongside his duties as SRU director of rugby, although he will be assisted by Matt Taylor, Jonathan Humphreys, Duncan Hodge and Massimo Cuttitta.
Jim Hamilton, who joined the squad in South Africa for their summer tour yesterday said: “I don’t know the ins and outs of what Vern has said today, but I understand that he’s coming in 2014 and as a player that’s what I expected to happen. When he’s right to come in, he’ll come in.
“Whether it’s six months or a year, it can only be good for Scotland.”