Scots rugby needs strong Edinburgh says Gregor Townsend

Continuity: Gregor Townsend may have exited Glasgow for Scotland but ties are still strong.  Photograph: Craig Williamson/SNS
Continuity: Gregor Townsend may have exited Glasgow for Scotland but ties are still strong. Photograph: Craig Williamson/SNS
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Gregor Townsend may have effectively taken over as Scotland coach last weekend, naming his squad for the summer tour on the Monday, but it will be this week when he actually starts to work with the players at the Oriam training camp that the job really begins.

Townsend spent last week tying up loose ends at Scotstoun and attended the Warriors end-of-season awards dinner on Wednesday after learning that Scotland would be facing Ireland and hosts Japan at the 2019 World Cup.

The new national coach makes no bones about the fact he has formed a strong and lasting emotional bond with the Glasgow club he led with such distinction and success over five years. Now that he has the Scotland hat on, though, he knows that striking up a good relationship with Edinburgh will be vital as he embarks on this new chapter of his career.

The former Scotland and Lions stand-off has spoken of the need for an improved capital pro team to boost the national cause and has pledged to be a regular visitor to BT Murrayfield and Myreside as the Richard Cockerill begins.

Townsend played an unwitting role in the Englishman ending up in Scotland as the Champions Cup hiding Glasgow dished out to his Leicester Tigers at Scotstoun in the pool stage pretty much ended their European hopes and within a couple of months the former hooker was out of a job.

Cockerill arrives in Edinburgh via a consultancy and caretaker coaching stint at Toulon and the Scotland boss is looking forward to working with him.

“I got to know Richard in November when we were at a coaching conference together, and we coached against each other this year,” said Townsend.

“It could have been awkward when we’d won that game, but he was really good. I like his company and I’ve spoken to him since he’s got the job.

“He’s keen to build relationships with the national coaches as well.

“It’s a different situation he’ll be in. In England, it’s 12 clubs competing very hard against each other and maybe not necessarily collaborating as much with the national team as what will happen here. There are shared resources, we want the pro-teams to succeed, likewise they want the national team and their players to succeed when they play Test rugby.”

Townsend has been in close contact with incoming Glasgow Warriors coach Dave Rennie throughout the season and agrees that his experience of pro-team coaching gives him valuable insight that will help him in his new, elevated position.

“I would hope so. The time which is difficult for club coaches is that week when you’re playing a game, so are Scotland and you’re keen for that information about who’s going to be playing as quickly as possible,” said the 44-year-old.

“If you have a relationship where you get a heads up the week before on who might be playing, you can adjust your squad accordingly and also have those honest conversations about players needing a rest.

“We operate within a structure where our Test players do get managed well. The five-game rule [which sees Test players given a mandatory rest week if they have played five straight matches] is something that works well for both teams.

“I’ve been a big fan of that rule in my five years as a pro-team head coach, because it allows our Test players to get that rest and play at their best most often. It also allows younger players to come through and get an opportunity.”

Townsend’s first squad was an even split of 17 Glasgow players and 17 Edinburgh and Exiles, though Josh Strauss’s imminent move to Sale Sharks alters that, and he has vowed to make the links between club and country as close as possible, within reason.

“There will be no taking sessions, but I’ll be certainly be offering the assistant coaches if they’re needed at Glasgow or Edinburgh to work with individuals or a group,” he explained. “That’s already come back positive from their side and it will be about building relationships, being seen regularly by the players and us watching the players training.

“We’ve got a huge advantage in Scotland compared to most other countries in the world. We can see what habits they’re in, what they might need to work on when they come into our camp. So we’ll be there a fair bit.”

One of the national coaches who will routinely be back working with Glasgow is Mike Blair, who Townsend has appointed as Scotland skills coach in a split role with the Warriors, where he has been a key lieutenant over the past two seasons.

“Mike does all the work I used to do,” said Townsend. “For four years I was doing all the attack, and it’s been great this year to have someone else helping on that side. One part of that is skills, the catch-pass work, also the analysis of the opposition, looking at attack plays where we might score tries. I love those conversations with him.

“The scrum-halves work very hard at training, staying out and doing extras with Mike. He has a lovely little fitness test he puts the nines through and Sam’s [Hidalgo Clyne]going to experience that over the next few weeks.

“It’s a great opportunity for him and for us, but in his whole coach development, it was also important he stayed with a club team. I was an assistant coach with Scotland and I did get frustrated in the early part of my coaching career because I wasn’t able to coach every day. Mike has that chance now.”

With Scotland, Blair will fill that role Nathan Hines had in the Vern Cotter regime, acting as a key interface between coaching and playing group.

Townsend added: “Mike does the messages for us on game day. That person, like Nathan did with Scotland, can be the eyes on the field, can speak with the players he played with and it helps if they have a good way of communicating on the field.

“Some coaches are really good at presenting Powerpoints; other coaches are better in the middle of it. Mike has done that really well.”