HE MAY have earned the nickname “Stern Vern” due to a frequently flinty exterior but Scotland’s head coach admitted yesterday that he was excited by the prospect of leading the nation to the World Cup in just over three months.
Vern Cotter was speaking in Motherwell yesterday as his initial extended squad checked in for training camp as the build-up to the global extravaganza in England officially got under way. Scotland open their Pool B campaign against Japan at Gloucester’s Kingsholm Stadium in 99 days’ time.
“I don’t want this training camp to be something to get rid of to get to games”Vern Cotter
“Yeah, I am very excited, though it probably doesn’t show,” said Cotter. “I am really looking forward to it. The last two months since we finished the Six Nations we have been through our analysis, our reviews, looked at our players individually, looked at the group as it comes together as people and rugby players and are looking forward to getting started because we do get a decent time to prepare.”
Cotter revealed there was no great Churchillian-style address to the troops as they gathered at the hotel yesterday before physical assessments at the Ravenscraig sports facility.
The 53-year-old Kiwi said: “I’m not really one for great speeches or speaking for long, you of all people [the press] know that. We just had a little welcome and just got started.
“Everything is reasonably classic. They will get tested physically to see where they are at and we will work from there.”
The Cotter reign is just over a year old and so far consists of a decent summer tour, an encouraging autumn Test series and then the disappointment of the Six Nations Wooden Spoon. The coach is looking forward to a fresh start with a national squad that will feature some fresh faces and contain a good number of players buoyed by post-Six Nations experiences with their clubs.
He said: “I have said we were probably about 50 per cent of where I would like us to be in our [Six Nations] performance. That is why this period is very important in moving forward and shifting once again on from where we were.
“Even though results were poor, some of the content was good and we want to keep developing more of the things we have done well and become better at that.
“At the same time, we have some players who have come into the group and they will be bringing their skill sets, personalities and characters to the benefit of the group. Their drive, their determination to do well as individuals, will help.”
Four warm-up matches against Ireland, Italy (twice) and France come after an extensive training camp, which includes the high-altitude trip to Font Romeu in the French Pyrenees. The elongated build-up will provide ample opportunity for Cotter to get to know some of those new uncapped members of the initial squad, as well as more experienced figures like John Barclay, who has been recalled after a couple of years out of the Scotland reckoning.
“We need to get to know these guys and make sure they feel at ease themselves,” said Cotter. “I don’t want this [training camp] to be something to just get rid of and get to the games. I want to see players enjoy being together and working hard for each other. That’s one of the key things to any group performance – getting them to trust each other. That’s why some of the scenarios will have those type of factors involved.”
Having the Guinness Pro12-winning Glasgow contingent and a couple of members of English champions Saracens in Jim Hamilton and Duncan Taylor will be of immense benefit, according to Cotter.
He added: “The boys who came out of Glasgow this year and the experience they have gained from that competition and winning it will be so important at critical times. They have got this capital of confidence. Saracens came from a very disappointing season last year and turned around and won it this year.
“Talking to someone like Jim [Hamilton] what was it that changed from last year to this year? He has some very strong ideas and they will be coming through.
“The guys from Edinburgh will be questioning themselves — they got to a [European Challenge Cup] final, but what would they do differently next time to win it? Greig [Laidlaw] won that final [with Gloucester] so he has got some strong ideas on how they went about that.
“Those players who have had success this year, will be very important to the group.”
Cotter was an interested spectator on Saturday evening when his old club Clermont Auvergne continued their finals jinx – pipped to the Top 14 title 12-6 by Stade Francais.
The New Zealander, who led them to their solitary French final win out of 12 attempts in 2010, believes his old team could learn from the way Glasgow won the Pro12 after a few years of near misses. He said: “It’s disappointing for everyone involved or who has been involved with Clermont. I’m going to repeat things that everybody says but it’s just fine margins isn’t it?
“At Clermont you’ve got so much negativity around finals time. People forget about the game and think about consequences, which undermines performance. That’s one thing Glasgow did very well in their final. They focused on the game and not the occasion.”