SUCCESSFUL Scotland coach Jim Telfer has backed two ex-forwards chiefs in George Graham and Pat Lam as contenders for the vacant head coach’s job with Scotland.
The SRU is again seeking a new head man after Andy Robinson resigned in the wake of Saturday’s defeat to Tonga, which dropped Scotland to a record low of 12th in the world rankings. Telfer experienced highs of Grand Slams and Five Nations wins, but also endured many low points so knows well the challenge that faces a new Scotland chief.
He believes that the SRU will strive to attract someone of the reputation of Nick Mallett, yesterday installed by bookmakers Ladbrokes as their 2-1 favourite, Wayne Smith, Jake White or Eddie Jones. But he thinks they should be looking at two men with differing experience of Scottish rugby. A former Scotland prop, Graham worked with the Borders and was a popular assistant to Frank Hadden from 2005. But, when Scotland began to struggle to unearth wins in 2008, Hadden dropped Graham and defence coach Alan Tait. After a brief spell in Italy, Graham returned to his north of England base and took over for a second time at club side Gala.
He repeated an earlier trick of steering the Borders club back to Division One, claiming a top- four place in their first season back in the top flight and they currently sit top of the league after beating Melrose at the Greenyards on Saturday.
Telfer said: “What I think we need right at this moment is a bit of realism in the Scotland squad about where we are and where we can get to, and sometimes that comes not from a coach’s skills on the field necessarily but in his approach and what he says. “What I like about George is that he never goes over the top about how good his players are, but is very honest. He is always looking for improvement from his players, at whatever level he has worked, and he has also built up a lot of experience as a coach over the past decade or so.
“I think Andy Robinson was a good coach and George is also a very honest coach. He has improved Gala enormously and has been around the international scene, and in Italy, for a while.
“I wouldn’t appoint Scott Johnson [current assistant], because he still has to prove himself as far as I’m concerned, but the SRU may do. But even if they go instead for Sean Lineen, who would be my preference, Graham would still be a good forwards coach for either of them.
“Another I would look at is Pat Lam, who worked with the Scotland squad along with Alan Tait before Matt Williams came in and took a different tack.
“Pat is a very good coach. He was dumped by the Blues this year after four years with them in Super Rugby, but he knows the game very well and is a positive coach, always looking to develop players and improve the team. That is the job, to bring these players together and push them to a higher standard; to their ultimate. I think Andy Robinson was trying to do that, but it’s no easy job.”
Graham admitted that the prospect of working with the Scotland squad again was enticing, but that now was not the right time for him to contemplate a return.
“I am very flattered by Jim’s comments, because I have the utmost respect for him,” he said. “I am a passionate Scotsman and it would be the highlight of anyone’s career to coach Scotland.
“But it’s not the right time for me. Right now I’m enjoying coaching Gala. It was quite a rollercoaster ride, being sacked by Scotland, going to Italy, and coming back, and I was at an all-time low with my confidence. Getting the opportunity with Gala has allowed me to rediscover my hunger and while we’re improving we’ve not won much yet, so I want to stay here beyond this season and see Gala winning trophies and, personally, me honing my coaching skills further.”
If, as is already becoming widely expected, SRU CEO Mark Dodson opts to put assistant coach Scott Johnson in charge on an interim basis, he will require a forwards coach. A good candidate is Todd Blackadder, the former Edinburgh and Scotland assistant now in charge at the Crusaders, though now a head coach the chances of him returning for a secondary role would be slim.
Closer to home, forwards specialists would include Shade Munro at Glasgow, Edinburgh’s England cap Neil Back, Carl Hogg, the former Scotland back row who has coached with Edinburgh and Gloucester for the past eight years, and Steve Scott, the former Scotland hooker who was a national skills coach at Murrayfield and was recently released by Sale.
But Graham added: “The big question now for Scottish rugby is ‘how do you replace Andy Robinson?’
“In all my dealings with Andy, and talking with players and other coaches in Scotland, he was widely considered to be a world-class coach; one of the best. I personally am disap-pointed that he has decided to walk. I think he’s been too hasty and I wish he’d taken more time to think about it.
“The players know they let him down and they are taking responsibility for it, and they have to work harder now to improve their performances, but Andy I believe could have taken us forward.
“Now we’re back at square one looking at another coach bringing his ideas in, getting players to understand different plans, two years from a World Cup. If they got Wayne Smith that would be a great coup for Scottish rugby, but would he want to come here? Many coaches will look at us right now and say if Andy Robinson, one of the best coaches in world rugby in my humble opinion, can’t make Scotland win games then who can?”
Any suggestions? “I don’t know what Mark Dodson’s thoughts will be. I’d be very surprised if Scott Johnson doesn’t take over with Matt Taylor, to try and keep some consistency. But one person who I think would be a good candidate is Bryan Redpath. He is someone I’d put my weight behind.”