SRU chief executive Mark Dodson strove to maintain an air of calm as confusion and plots thickened all around him at Murrayfield yesterday.
The Mancunian businessman started by welcoming “a great day in Scottish rugby history” with the appointment of New Zealander Vern Cotter alongside Australian Scott Johnson atop the Scottish pyramid. But, as fireworks were going off at Cotter’s club Clermont Auvergne, Dodson found himself bombarded with questions about why he had appointed a head coach who was not available for another year, what he was doing to shorten that waiting period and how the appointment of Johnson as both director of rugby and assistant coach seemed like a strange fudge.
After the most bizarre coach acquisition possibly witnessed in Scottish rugby, Dodson insisted: “We are privileged to have two coaches of this quality working in this business with Scott Johnson and Vern.
“This is a fantastic coup for Scottish rugby to have coaches of this quality and the opportunity to bring Vern into the organisation. He will make a fantastic impact on the team. As we go to the World Cup to have these guys working together can only benefit the game at large.
“When we were filling Andy Robinson’s positions we took our time, we did our homework and made a list of the best available coaches in the world. Vern was the top of that list. We waited, did our business properly and managed to secure Vern’s services, and we now have the ability to take the international team from strength to strength. This is a coup for Scottish rugby.”
The proof of that is yet to come. Cotter is widely respected. He was involved in the recruitment of new coaches by both New Zealand and England, but missed out, or opted out in terms of the latter, of those roles, and three weeks ago looked set to be anointed as the French league and European double-winning coach.
Now, with those title bids lost, he is another untested international coach, with questions inevitable over how quickly he will grasp the challenges of moulding a Scottish team, only a handful of whom might win starts in his Clermont side, alongside a new director of rugby working to get a handle on the dynamics of the Scottish game. For Dodson, the question was ‘where is the Scottish influence?’
He said: “Vern brings world-class experience and qualities to Scottish rugby. When we looked at the very best people we could for that [director of rugby] role, it became clear that with Scott’s experience in Wales in particular, but across the whole of world rugby – he has coached in America and Australia as well – he has learned so much about how rugby should be played and the structures that work and the structures that don’t work that I feel very, very confident that we have somebody with more experience than anybody else, with the ability to take it forward and make rugby better in Scotland on many, many levels.
“If you have someone with deep knowledge of Scottish rugby then you may not have somebody with Scott’s global experience. What you have to realise is that rugby is rugby whether it is played in Wales or played in Scotland.
“It is having an appreciation of the local market place, if you like. The local game is very important but we are not totally devoid of that in the set-up. We have plenty of people in the system – Gregor [Townsend], Stevie Scott, a whole raft of others like Stevie Gemmell. These people understand the game here and can benefit from Scott’s experience. I don’t see it as an issue.”
The quicker Johnson and Cotter can get down to work, the sooner those words may begin to take on some meaning.