SCOTT Johnson will double up as Scotland’s head coach and SRU director of rugby until Vern Cotter is released by Clermont Auvergne, but with Cotter providing advice and support at the start of what the union hope will be a new period of success in the Scottish game.
The Scotsman revealed yesterday that the 51-year-old from Auckland had agreed an offer to become Scotland’s new head coach, replacing interim appointment Johnson, but not before his club contract ends in June next year.
The SRU later confirmed that they had struck the deal with Cotter at the end of the recent RBS Six Nations Championship but were unable to match Clermont’s request for compensation for an early release, and that the deal had to remain secret until Clermont’s bid to win the Heineken Cup and Top 14 titles had been concluded.
That ended on Saturday with defeat in the semi-finals by Castres, which compounded the previous week’s agony after the team succumbed to a fightback by Toulon in the Heineken Cup Final in Dublin. Finally able to answer media questions on his future, Cotter confirmed on Sunday that he had accepted Scotland’s offer but that he would not leave until his current contract with the French club expires in June, 2014.
It is now known that Cotter topped the union’s list of candidates and that when it became clear that he may not be released this summer a decision was made by the SRU appointment panel of Dodson, Alan Lawson (SRU President), Sir Moir Lockhead (SRU Chairman), Ian McLauchlan and John Jeffrey, that they would wait, rather than seek an alternative coach elsewhere.
Dodson insisted that he was comfortable with a scenario whereby Johnson continues as Scotland’s interim head coach next season, overseeing the coaching team of Jonathan Humphreys, Matt Taylor, Duncan Hodge and Massimo Cuttitta, but added that if Johnson felt unable to carry out both roles then another interim appointment would be supported.
Dodson said: “We want the best person we can get and we believe we have him. In an ideal world you’d like to have Vern here tomorrow, but we are happy to wait for the man we feel can help us to drive the Scotland team forward.
“We always knew we would secure Vern’s services from June 2014, and until then he will be on hand to assist Scott and the coaching team with advice during the Autumn Tests and the 2014 RBS Six Nations Championship before joining us full-time as head coach ahead of our summer tour next year. Vern is rightly regarded as one of the top coaches in the world and to have secured someone of his calibre is a coup for Scotland.
“We compiled a short-list of world-class candidates last December and Vern was top of that list. We are pleased to have secured him on a two-year contract taking us up to and beyond the Rugby World Cup 2015.
“We did our business with Vern some months ago and we believe we have the best man for the role with our national team. It’s a measure of our standing that we have him on board. We delayed our announcement out of respect to Clermont and Vern as they prepared for the two most important games in their season.
“We are satisfied that we conducted our business in an honourable fashion and are sure Clermont appreciated our discretion.”
That last remark was in response to our highlighting in these columns yesterday that this was hardly an ideal route to securing a new head coach, particularly at a time when Edinburgh are similarly waiting for him to appoint their new coaching team, just weeks
before pre-season begins.
On that issue, Dodson would not be drawn, but the SRU are believed to be close to capturing another southern hemisphere figure for the Edinburgh post. The Scotsman understands that they are in talks with an experienced former Test coach currently involved in the Super Rugby Championship, and that Stevie Scott will continue as interim head coach in pre-season until the new man flies into Edinburgh. That move is expected to be effected in time for the start of the new season, however.
Being made to wait a year for the Scotland chief is not ideal but, retaining a strong grip on Murrayfield finances that were in the not-so-distant past spiralling out of control, Dodson was not able to comply with what is likely to have been a request for a six-figure sum to secure the release of a coach who has overseen Clermont’s most successful period in a 102-year history.
Instead, Dodson acceded to Clermont’s request even though this left him open to criticism over the time it has taken to appoint, and to have in place, their new head coach. But Cotter is not concerned either. The former Counties Manakau player, who assisted Robbie Deans’ Crusaders to successive Super Rugby titles in 2005/06 before joining Clermont, said: “I’m absolutely thrilled and honoured to have been appointed to the role of Scotland head coach.
“Mark Dodson and the team at Scottish Rugby have a strategic vision and a determination to do something very special in the coming time and, working with them and a talented group of players and coaches, I look forward to the Scotland team growing in competitiveness and stature. We will build a winning team together. I very much look forward to joining Scotland and until I do permanently I will be on hand to support Scott [Johnson] and the coaches with any advice and support they need.”
Clermont may still decide to let Cotter go early, knowing that the Kiwi wishes to leave and take his first steps into the Test arena. With a new club president and assistant coaches taking over at Clermont, relations are not as strong as they were under René Fontès, the man who took Cotter to the Auvergne.
Johnson welcomed the move, stating: “I believe this is a real coup for Scottish Rugby. Vern Cotter is amongst the most highly-regarded coaches in the world. Until Vern arrives I will continue to lead Scotland as head coach and continue my duties as Director of Rugby.”
The SRU director of rugby happens to share an agent with Cotter, as well as new forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys, but Dodson said: “The fact is a handful of management companies handle the top players and coaches worldwide now, just as two former Scotland internationalists [Rowen Shepherd and Shaun Longstaff] handle the majority of Scotland players, and so if you are looking to employ the best you tend to come across the same agents. What’s important is that we have coaches of the highest calibre.”