After what can only be described as a failure in Japan as Scotland slinked out of the recent Rugby World Cup at the pool stage for only the second time since the inaugural tournament in 1987, you always felt change was coming.
In the raw emotion of that dramatic 28-21 loss to the hosts in Yokohama on a typhoon-blighted weekend there were calls for head coach Gregor Townsend to go. It came off the back of a disappointing Six Nations yielding one win and an, albeit unforgettable, 38-38 Calcutta Cup-retaining draw with England at Twickenham.
Townsend remains statistically Scotland’s most successful coach in the professional era with a 56.4 per cent win rate and has proved capable of rousing magnificent performances from his team during two and a half years in charge and has been given time.
Change has come, however, with the news yesterday that his most trusted lieutenant Matt Taylor is, after months of denying the links, heading back to his native Australia to be defence coach in a Wallabies management group which will be led by Glasgow boss Dave Rennie come the end of the season.
His replacement is Welshman Steve Tandy, long-time former Pro 12-title winning head coach of the Ospreys who has been recruited after a spell working in Super Rugby as defence coach with the New South Wales Waratahs since 2018.
Another addition to the Scotland management team for a fast-approaching campaign which, aside from Ireland away, will also include physically daunting trips to Cardiff and Rome and the visits of England and France, is the former French prop Pieter de Villiers as a short-term specialist scrum coach.
Like Taylor a former flanker, Tandy, then with Bridgend, was a surprise appointment as Ospreys head coach midway through the 2011-12 season at the age of only 32 but led them to the Pro12 title as legendary wing Shane Williams starred in a thrilling 31-30 final win at Leinster. In six subsequent years the now 39-year-old took the Welsh region to two further semi-finals before departing in 2018 and heading Down Under.
Tandy said: “Defence is a huge part of the game which I am extremely passionate about. With my experiences from both the northern and southern hemispheres, I feel I can add to the Scotland set-up, moving forward. I cannot wait to start working with Gregor, his coaching team and the players.”
South Africa-born de Villiers won 69 French caps between 1999 and 2007, during which the now 47-year-old tighthead prop was considered one of the best scrummagers in the eight-year Test career, and also brought four Six Nations titles.
He moved into coaching after his retirement through injury in 2008 and joined South Africa as scrum coach in 2012, before switching to his former club Stade Francais in 2018.
De Villiers, who becomes the first full-time scrum coach since Italian Massimo Cuttitta departed in 2018, said: “I am looking forward to being involved with the Scotland player group. The goal would be to build strong personal relationships to enable the collective construction of our scrummaging principles and our scrummaging system.”
On the new appointments, Townsend said: “It’s great to bring someone of Steve Tandy’s experience on board. He was a successful head coach in the Pro14 and added another impressive dimension to his coaching as an assistant coach in Super Rugby, which is a rare move for a northern hemisphere coach.
“He’s passionate about learning and passionate about improving players. We’re looking forward to welcoming him into the wider coaching group. I know he’s keen to get started with this opportunity.”
Townsend added: “We’re also pleased to welcome Pieter into the group. He’s passionate about the scrum and has top-level Test experience, having played for many years at Stade Francais and the French national team.
“He’ll be focused on improving our scrum collectively and working closely on improving the individuals in our team.”
As for Brisbane-born former Scotland A cap Taylor, who played alongside Townsend at the Border Reivers, it marks the end of eight years coaching in Scotland, firstly in a dual defence coach role with Glasgow Warriors before fully focusing on the national side in the build up to Japan.
“I would like to thank the players and the staff of both Scotland and Glasgow Warriors for the friendship they have shown to me and my family over the past eight years,” said the 47-year-old. “The moments we’ve shared through this period will stay with us for many more to come. The Calcutta Cup win in 2018 with Scotland and winning the Pro12 title in 2015 with Glasgow are ones which will always remain vivid.”
His new boss Rennie, who will take full charge of Australia in June, said Taylor would be his man on the ground until he takes the reins at the end of the season.
“Definitely,” said Rennie yesterday when asked if Taylor would be his eyes and ears for the meantime. “I’m going there during that small break at the start of the Six Nations which will give me a chance to meet key people and get around the rugby sides.
“I was heavily involved in that decision obviously. I’m rapt. He [Taylor] is a good man and a bloody good coach. He’s very experienced and Australian, which is even better. It’s great to get him heading back home to coach his national team.”