FORMER Scotland player and coach Alan Tait has entered the debate over who should be the next Scotland coach by insisting that a move to a top foreign name could spell disaster for the nation at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Tait, one of Scotland’s most prolific tryscorers with 17 in just 27 Tests, has the unique distinction in the Scottish game of representing his country in both rugby union and rugby league as well as wearing the Great Britain league jersey and scoring a memorable try on the British and Irish Lions last successful tour, to South Africa in 1997.
The centre moved into coaching as a defence specialist alongside Ian McGeechan after retiring as a player in 1999 and, after being dropped from the Scotland set-up by Australian Matt Williams, returned to work with Frank Hadden for three years.
During both his spells with the Scotland squad, the defence returned some of their best statistics, even if victories tended to come from the boot of Chris Paterson rather than a plethora of tries.
Tait went on to coach Newcastle, working with Steve Bates and then taking over from him.
However, an unsuccessful season last year saw Tait step down and he has been out of the game for most of this year.
Speaking to The Scotsman, he said: “I’m not touting myself for the job because one thing I’ve learned is that I’m not cut out for being a head coach really.
“But I do think that having an insight to the Scottish game, the players and what they’re really capable of, is an underrated fact when it comes to appointing a head coach in Scotland.
“I get a bit worried when I hear statements like we should win the World Cup. That’s not realistic. Who are you saying that for? For players? For supporters? I cringe now at the thought of them going away to try to get Wayne Smith and the like. I’ve nothing against Wayne, he’s a great coach but this is not the All Blacks you’re asking him to coach.
“I was fortunate at the start of my coaching career to be able to sit down and listen to Ian [McGeechan] and Jim [Telfer].
“The secrets they used to get the most out of players and win Grand Slams, or the 1999 Five Nations title, are the same as we need now, and it starts with understanding what you’re working with and what is really achievable.
“I’m not being negative when I say we’re not blessed with the silky skills of New Zealanders or the size and talent of South Africa. They have come up through a different system and they have a more developed range of skills. That’s not really our players’ fault. I came through the system here, too, and you’re limited to some extent by the rugby around you, although I did develop a lot when I went to Rugby League, and I do worry about whether our players know how, or want to kick on and really push themselves to improve their skills. But, in terms of a new coach, we have to create success within the structure we have and build character in players and teams. That is what has made us successful in the past.
“I’ve played with and coached a lot of world-class players and a lot of players with great character but whose skills are not so good and, I tell you, character goes a long way, if it’s coached properly.
“When you’ve got Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams, coaching the backs is quite easy and you can rely a lot on their skills, but it’s a different ball game coaching a group of players that don’t have that level of skill. Matt Williams was out of his depth trying it here, and I think if the SRU went now for a Kiwi, South Africa or stayed with the Aussie guy Scott Johnson they would be asking for the same thing, and it would cost.”
Tait insisted he did not wish to tout names for the job but, discussing potential contenders, it became clear that he liked the idea of a former Scotland internationalist such as Bryan Redpath being given the job.
“Well, I hope he goes for it because he is the type of guy we should be looking at,” said Tait. “He gained a lot of respect for what he did with Gloucester, a hard club and hard supporters to please, but he took them into the top four and kept them there and then they cut his playing budget dramatically and he struggled, as you do. I know how hard it is to compete with the Premiership sides at the top when you have half of their budget.
“But “Brush” [Redpath] knows the Scottish game, he knows players and he knows that you can create success in Scottish rugby with the right approach.
“That’s the key for me. It’s not about saying we don’t have the skills of the All Blacks and accepting that that’s it. We have shown before we can compete with the top countries and, every now and again, beat them.
“Andy [Robinson] did a good job but, latterly, I don’t think he knew what he was trying to do because the players had let him down and I couldn’t see for the life of me where the attack was going, or what Scott Johnson was bringing to it.
“But it’s not easy. I actually think international rugby is 80 per cent selection and it gets tougher when players who are good don’t perform but you know they are better than the next guy. We’ve seen that causing Andy problems.”
As for whether Tait could see himself back involved with Scotland, he added: “I can’t see it right now. I’m enjoying my time off, time with my wife and family for a change, without having to jump on a plane or a train every weekend and, after 20-odd years as a player and coach it’s nice to be able to watch a lot more rugby on the TV and speak to players and coaches across the game.
“I’d never say never because I do feel now, after all the experiences I’ve had, that I’m probably a far better coach than when I started out with Scotland, so I could see myself getting my teeth into an attack or defence job again and being excited about it. But I’m not going to jump at anything. It would have to be the right job for me.
“For Scotland, the key is to look now at Scots like Brush, Carl Hogg or others who have cut their teeth at a higher level, who understand the challenge and to get the most out of a Scottish player better in my opinion than someone who has been there and done it with Scotland.”