VERN Cotter has insisted he is here for the long haul as he plans to rebuild Scotland’s confidence in the build-up to this year’s Rugby World Cup.
The national coach was again left deeply frustrated as his team lost a fifth match in succession on Saturday, going down 40-10 to Six Nations champions Ireland. But he denied a report that he would use a break clause in his contract to return to club rugby in France, and said he was sure that Scotland’s many failings could be dealt with once the squad get into their pre-World-Cup camp.
“That one took me by surprise,” Cotter said when asked about the claim that Bordeaux would sign him this summer, barely a year after he took over as head coach at Murrayfield. “No, no. I have the World Cup. The Six Nations after that. I am not aware of any contact whatsoever with anybody else.
“I didn’t have to come here. I keep repeating that. Today is enormously frustrating, but I really want to get back to winning and developing and seeing these guys developing.
“All we need to keep doing is develop what we’re doing. Defensively we need to improve. And once we have the ball we have to keep the ball.”
Scotland again played some positive rugby against the Irish, as they had done in parts of their previous defeats. But Cotter said that his team need to learn when to play with adventure, and when to retain possession and patiently go through the phases – something in which the Irish delivered a master plan.
“If we can condition ourselves to play with intensity and take away the errors, I feel we can dominate start to finish against good teams. If we do the simple things well, we’ll be fine.
“There has to be a shift in the way we support the game. We have to understand games are built. They are constructed from one lineout to another. From one phase to another.
“It goes for 80 minutes and that has to be managed and understood as a group. As soon as we lose a little bit of confidence we end up playing catch-up rugby. Catch-up rugby is not constructive rugby.”
Scotland have four warm-up games before the World Cup, against Ireland, Italy twice and France. While they will hope to regain the winning habit in that round of matches in August, Cotter suggested that the training camp was where the squad could collectively rediscover their form.
“We’ve just had a Six Nations which is not quite the same as a World Cup. We get to work with the players for three months before we go into the World Cup. There will be scenarios that we can perform. There are so many simple things.
“It’s been a bad championship. Absolutely. These are things in front of us and we have to address them.
“There was a loss of momentum. We were unable to keep the same team on the paddock. We missed players at the start of the competition – David Denton was not available, Adam Ashe.
Alex Dunbar, Richie Gray, Sean Lamont,” he continued, naming just three of the players who became unavailable during the tournament because of injury.
“We lost Finn Russell for a game as well. They are major losses to us. There are no two ways about it. Richie Gray is an international lock and playing with his brother adds to that cohesion.”
Captain Greig Laidlaw agreed that a long time together in camp is exactly what he and his team-mates need. “Things can be fixed by [the World Cup],” the scrum-half said. “We have more time together by then and that time will be very, very precious indeed.
“We’ll spend time with Vern and the rest of the coaches. Then we have four games leading into the World Cup and we will have precious, precious time together and build.”
Stand-off Finn Russell, who scored his first professional try against Ireland, is also convinced that the team can bounce back from the humiliation of taking the Wooden Spoon. “We have six months to the World Cup,” the Glasgow playmaker said.
“The boys will be back at their clubs this week and it will be a case of week on week individuals working on what they need to work on, tidying wee things up. It’s not far off. It’s just small mistakes that are costing us games.
“Pre-season will be good for the team. It’s still a young team that has not played with each other that much. We’re going to get a solid month and a half pre-season all together, and we’re going to know what we’re we doing and have great team bonding.
“We have time off now until the summer. We need to get better as individuals and a team. The only way to do that is to get the feedback from the coaches and it’s then up to the individual players to go away to club level and work on these things and come back into the pre-season as a better team.
“It will come. The pre-season will be good for us. We’ll get the team really tight and go into the World Cup knowing exactly what we are going to do.”
The return of several players to club action could be delayed because of injuries sustained against Ireland.
Loosehead prop Ryan Grant will need to rest an injured knee, which at present does not look like it will need surgery. Tighthead Euan Murray injured a nose and was concussed, and is now subject to the return-to-play protocol.
Centre Mark Bennett took a head knock and will only be allowed to return to play once he has completed the protocol for head injury assessment. Dougie Fife needed stitches in a cut nose during the first half, but was able to return to the field.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS