Former Scotland coach Vern Cotter believes his departure occurred at the right time to allow his successor Gregor Townsend the opportunity to build a squad capable of making an impression at the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
Cotter vacated the post at the end of the RBS Six Nations campaign, having presided over a reconstruction project that restored Scotland’s reputation and created a platform for the new man at the helm. Some observers felt Cotter’s departure came too soon, but the Kiwi is in no doubt that his task was complete.
“I had a contract for two years, up to the World Cup, and they extended it by a season. The job I was given was to build a team and return Scotland to a good level that would allow Gregor Townsend to take over in a good state. Two years out from the World Cup it was time for Gregor to be appointed in order to get things started,” said Cotter.
Now charged with engineering a revival in the fortunes of Montpellier in the French Top 14, he has paid tribute to the quality of the individuals with whom he worked as he sought to instil confidence and pride among the squad of players he inherited.
“I was lucky to be in charge of a group of good guys who were hard-working and imbued with a strong Scottish identity. I liked being alongside guys like Greig Laidlaw, Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg, Johnny Gray and many others. Through contact with such people you get better,” he added during an interview with the French rugby publication Midi Olympique.
“It was a tough building job to start with but an exciting challenge. I took over a group that was above all used to playing in order to avoid losing and which often did lose despite that. We had to build a depth of game but more importantly a culture which created an ambitious team that aspired to win. We worked a lot on this last point – it was about confidence. The team had to believe in itself and its capacity to play to win. That was the common goal we all tried to attain.”
After completing his duties at BT Murrayfield, Cotter had planned to return to his farm in New Zealand. He was then approached by the Chiefs, where negotiations for him to replace Glasgow-bound Dave Rennie reached an advanced stage. And, having decided to take on another coaching assignment rather than resume work as a farmer, his options grew when he received a call from Montpellier owner Mohed Altrad who bypassed Cotter’s agent to make direct contact.
A salary that makes him the highest paid coach in world rugby together with an attractive lifestyle and good education options for his children clinched a return to France for Cotter, who led Clermont Auvergne to French Championship success before taking on the Scotland role.
The challenge he now faces has echoes of the role he took on with Scotland. His predecessor at the French outfit was Jake White, who was heavily criticised for relying on his fellow South Africans – there were rumours of unrest in the changing rooms where English became the everyday language – and promoting a style of rugby that made Montpellier difficult to beat but boring to watch. Among Cotter’s key objectives will be to reverse the pattern of dwindling crowds.
He admits that his experience of Scotland, and the warmth of its people have made an impression, but he is now concentrating on his latest assignment, stating: “From now on I am simply a Scotland supporter and I am looking ahead at Montpellier.”