ASK Scotland coach Vern Cotter how he has managed to make such a big difference to the national team’s performances and he will tell you it is down to the players and the other coaches. Ask the other coaches and they will quickly tell you that, while each of them has a specific contribution to make, it is the New Zealander who inspires them and the squad to give of their best.
According to defence coach Matt Taylor, Cotter’s contribution can be divided into two main categories: his overall approach to the style in which the team should play, and his very practical attention to detail. “Vern’s made a huge difference on lots of levels,” Taylor said yesterday.
“He’s brought a style that he wants Scotland to play that’s a lot to do with how the really good Scottish teams in the past have played, and we’ve worked really hard on working our game around that. The cultural side of things, a Scottish style of play, what has made the great Scottish teams of the past, Scotland’s sporting stars in general – he’s been very good with that.
“He’s straight-shooting in what he wants individuals and the group to do. He has a presence about him, just because he’s a big guy and is direct, I suppose. He’s been excellent for players and staff and you can see that in the results we’ve had.”
While Cotter’s primary emphasis has been on cultivating the self-belief in his own squad rather than picking holes in the opposition, that balance may change this week as he prepares Scotland for their opening game of this year’s RBS Six Nations Championship on Saturday in Paris. Having first played French club rugby as long ago as 1990, and having only ended eight years of coaching Clermont Auvergne to join Scotland in 2014, he possibly knows France’s strengths and weaknesses better than those of any team, Scotland themselves included.
“We all do our analysis in different parts of the game, but the great thing is that Vern knows their players very well,” Taylor continued. “He knows their traits, knows their psyche. It’s excellent having him for this particular game.
“You look at a team’s style of play and often it’s reflected in their culture. He’s got the knowledge of 16-17 years there as a player and coach. He knows what makes individuals tick over there. A lot of their players are from Clermont and he knows what makes them tick.”
With several players only just returned to full training after injury, Scotland will have to do a lot more this week than merely keep ticking over. And, while the selectors are close to finalising their starting XV for the Stade de France, there are still several players on whom a final decision will not be taken until later in the week, following further assessment.
“Last week we had a lot of good meetings and prepared ourselves as best we could. There were a lot of bumps and bruises we had to deal with in that first week – you don’t always get as much full-on training as you’d like.
“This week there are three or four sessions to go, and a lot of the hard stuff comes in, particularly on Tuesday when we have our contact session. We’re very close [to finalising the team]. There’s a few little things we have to pass by in terms of medical and things like that, but we’re close.”
One factor for the coaches to take into account is the match readiness of Ryan Grant, the Glasgow Warriors prop who only joined up with the squad yesterday after an assault charge against him was found not proven last week. Taylor is sure that, if called upon, Grant will be ready.
“I haven’t had a chance specifically to talk to him, but he seems from what I can see to be in a good space,” Taylor said. “That part of what he’s gone through is over and now he’s here to focus. I’m sure he’ll bring a lot of positives.
“I’m not privy to what he did during his time off, but as a professional he’ll have kept himself in good shape. We’ve got a full week’s training this week and even if he had last week off, in the weeks before that he was in full training in Glasgow. I’m sure he’s done the work himself, because he’s a professional.”