Vern Cotter’s “ruthless” management has “evolved drastically”, leaving the Kiwi coach refusing to discuss his summer Scotland switch as Clermont chase Heineken Cup redemption, according to hooker Benjamin Kayser.
Before he checks in officially at Murrayfield this summer, Cotter hopes to end his eight-year Clermont stint in style by lifting the Heineken Cup title which eluded the Massif Central club last season.
Kayser admitted that Clermont will never fully recover from their agonising 16-15 Heineken Cup final defeat to Toulon last term.
The 29-year-old said Cotter has not once mentioned his summer departure or his personal trophy quest, further underlining the high esteem of his coaching credentials.
Clermont face Saracens at Twickenham on Saturday, with captain and centre/winger Aurelien Rougerie battling to shake off hamstring trouble.
France hooker Kayser said Clermont will back the centre’s inspirational leadership to guide them to victory, even if Rougerie fails to recover in time.
“He’s ruthless: all the great coaches I’ve met in my career are the same, great leaders of teams and men,” said Kayser of Cotter. “He’s extremely hard working, knows his direction, and he’s just a real captain of the ship and that’s what you expect from the boss. He will boss guys around and make sure that he pushes them to their absolute best.
“I think his management has evolved drastically, he came to the club and he had to impose a winning culture and impose his way of thinking. And gradually he has given a lot of us the management and leadership power to a few key guys within the team. And he’s just the boss, on top of that, who is piloting everything. So I think he’s really shown his smart management.
“But it’s not because it’s his last year at Clermont that we want to do something, he has never mentioned it once.
“He just wants us to win and to finally go to our full potential, not for him but just for the whole team and the whole club.”
Experienced France back-row forward Julien Bonnaire could lead Clermont against Saracens should Rougerie miss out.
Kayser backed 33-year-old Rougerie to retain an inspirational role whether he plays or not.
“He’s the team captain so obviously his influence is huge,” said Kayser. “As a player everybody can be replaced, anybody, because we have a fantastic squad.
“As a leader he is very important to the team. He’s our flame, he’s the type of back that likes to show the right mindset in the game. I don’t think it’s about the way he speaks or even how he influences the ref, I think it’s about how he puts his body on the line every weekend to show the pride in the jersey and to show the way forward, he leads by example. So that’s why he’s a very important captain and we all hope he’s going to be fit for this weekend.
“Remember last year he was unfortunately ruled out for the semi-final [Clermont’s 16-10 victory over Munster], Julien Bonnaire did a fantastic job taking his place as captain, but he was obviously with us all week, with us before the game, with us at half-time and with us after the game.
“So it’s as though he was on the pitch with us, and whatever happens this week I’m sure that’s what he’s going to do.”
Admitting Clermont will never fully shake last year’s Heineken Cup final heartbreak, Kayser said the club must put the past aside at Twickenham this weekend.
“That was definitely the biggest defeat of my career – I’m not going to lie to you,” said Kayser of Toulon’s one-point victory in last year’s final. “In the beginning of this season we dragged it for a few months.
“It will never be erased whatever happens, even if we win the European Cup for the next three years in a row.
“But, as a team and as human beings, we really managed to bounce back from it.”
Clermont brushed expertly past Saracens 22-3 in a Vicarage Road quarter-final in April 2012, but Kayser warned there will be no repeat this weekend.
“It would be the perfect trap for us to think about the past,” he said.
“Before we think of any final or anything like that, we’ve got a huge mountain to climb on Saturday with Saracens at Twickenham.”