VERN Cotter will not seek to emulate Scott Johnson’s friendly style and will not be universally popular, but he could instil a new steel in Scotland’s performances on the world stage.
That is the view of former Scotland captain Jason White, whom Cotter signed for Clermont Auvergne four years ago and made one of his lieutenants in the rise of the French club.
Now 35, White was part of the now-legendary Championship-winning side of 2010, and after retiring last year he will return home this summer to take the first steps on his own coaching ladder with Watsonians.
He admits he was surprised to discover that Cotter would be following him to Scotland and more so that it may not be immediate. White said: “It is a strange situation to have to wait a year for the head coach, but when you sit down and look at it, the SRU were convinced that Vern was the man they wanted, so hopefully he will prove worth the wait.
“I think he is the right man. I worked with him for three years and obviously know him pretty well, and developed a good relationship with him, but I look at it now from the perspective of a Scotland fan, and, I suppose, an ex-player who wants to see the young players coming through have a real chance of winning things in a Scotland jersey, and I think he will suit us.
“I read comments from Todd Blackadder [in The Scotsman] two weeks ago, where he said that he wasn’t the right man for the Scotland job right now because we needed someone who was experienced and had been around the traps, and I agree with that. That is the kind of coach we need and Vern fits that bill. He had success in New Zealand with the Crusaders and, in seven years in France, created a successful culture. He did that by understanding the French culture and French players, and bringing in players to complement them.
“I think he will do the same with Scotland, and that’s important. We have seen the mistakes made by foreign coaches who have come to Scotland and tried to put their own mark on things [White played under Matt Williams], and it’s crucial that any foreign coach does grasp what makes Scottish players tick and connects with them.
“I would like to see more Scottish coaches involved, and hopefully the appointments of Vern and Scott Johnson will have another benefit of up-skilling our coaches through them imparting their knowledge and experience.”
In terms of what Scotland players can expect, White compared Cotter to “a modern-day Jim Telfer”, in the sense that his style was similar but adapted to suit the changing demands of professional players. He laughed, recalling the first impression he left on Cotter, and wondering how he managed to still secure a contract with the French club.
“I went to see him at his house in Clermont and sat on a stool, I remember, in his kitchen, and it broke! He didn’t say much.
“But, what struck me then was how straight-forward he was. No lies, no talking up things at the club, just the truth about what to expect. I hadn’t made my mind up then, it was a first recce of the city, but he impressed me.
“He is a grizzly old coach who has been around the block. He is a very strong character. I like him and respect him, but he is very capable of making you uncomfortable; pushing you out of your comfort zone. That’s his nature.
“Frank Hadden was a nice guy, so are Joe Schmidt [new Ireland coach] and Scott Johnson from what I understand, but Vern is different. He is not necessarily a nice guy, certainly as a coach; doesn’t want to be. I would compare him to Jim [Telfer] and maybe to Warren Gatland.
“He doesn’t mind raising his voice when he has to and giving players a bollocking. It’s perhaps dictatorial, and while that’s not his only style, it is the predominant one.
“He sets very high standards in training, and around players’’ lifestyles, and has great attention to detail. It’s not unusual to come in from winning a really hard game to find him unhappy, picking up areas that were still not good enough for him; a bit like Jim.
“But he also likes players to enjoy a beer at the right time, to socialise and include their families. He creates a culture, I guess, that helps guys to go that bit further and drag out that extra bit of effort for him.”
What Cotter does not have, however, is international experience, as a player or coach and White agreed that moulding a winning team in the space of a week or two, with sporadic access to them during the season, was a unique challenge.
“At Clermont he has changed the culture but he has had a big budget and brought in world-class players, so this will be different for him, as will the preparation time and intensity of the Six Nations.
“My gut instinct is that he will be successful, but what is successful for Scotland? Do we have the players to win the Six Nations, and will the coach make that difference? I obviously want us to do well and would love us to win the Six Nations, which is what we all want, but it’s not easy with a limited source of two pro teams.
“It would be nice to see Vern in place sooner, but I do think the SRU have made a good choice.”