There are large banners all over the city of Gloucester warning drivers: “Rugby World Cup… Be Prepared”. After four warm-up matches and goodness knows how many training sessions Scotland cannot claim that next Wednesday’s opener against Japan has caught them unprepared.
The team are actually based in the elegant surrounds of the Puckrup Hall Hotel, about 17 miles north of Gloucester in the middle of the country, although the entire squad decamped to Gloucester Cathedral yesterday afternoon for the official World Cup welcoming ceremony. The event was hosted by Hawick favourite Jill Douglas, a handy commute from her Cheltenham home, with the caps handed out by the chairman of English Rugby, Andy Cosslett.
The key thing is adapting, not being reactive, make sure it is constant actionVern Cotter
The Rugby World Cup is now the third biggest bash in the sporting calendar and the game has come a long way from the very first tournament held back in 1987 during the amateur era. The initial tournament was held in New Zealand and Scotland’s current coach was a rumbustious young flanker for Counties Manukau, where his team-mate Sean Lineen remembers a “tough, reliable team-man who did the basics well”.
“I played against a lot of those players,” says Vern Cotter looking back to the class of ’87. “Andy Dalton [one-time All Black skipper] I knew very well but he missed out from the side through injury. That was a great moment and rugby went professional soon after that.
“Every World Cup is getting bigger and bigger, better organised and rugby is gaining in popularity. There is a lot of enthusiasm running through the home nations at the moment. It is good to be part of, quite frankly we enjoy being here.
“There are a whole lot of things that go into the World Cup. Emotion is a big part, recognising and understanding how players feel during this period. There will be times when there is elation. There will be time when there will be disappointing moments. There will be enjoyment and it will make the person.
“‘Timeline, scoreline’, is the old saying. It is important managing matches. Make sure we don’t play the game too early or too late. The key thing is adapting, not being reactive, make sure it is constant action.”
Four years ago Cotter admits to having mixed emotions when his native New Zealand side beat France by a single point after Les Bleus had lost to Tonga in the pool stages of the competition. It was the third time France had been to the final only to emerge empty handed on every occasion and 2011 was a typically tempestuous Gallic campaign that mirrored France’s forgettable appearance in the 2010 football world cup.
One year on in the rugby world cup, France were bested by the slenderest possible margin despite going into the game without the benefit of a coach. The senior players had effectively sidelined the hapless Marc Lievremont early in the tournament and still they almost triumphed.
“They [France] nearly won the last one,” says Cotter. “I think if things go right and they get a positive dynamic they will be tough. I was coaching Clermont who had a number of players in the World Cup. France came so close to beating the All Blacks and I picked these players up when they came back off that World Cup absolutely devastated.”
“They work reactively the French,” Cotter continued. “They lost against Tonga and they got severely criticised by their home press and they shut down shop. But they had the quality of players to win the World Cup, there was no doubt about it. I was too busy running a club team with over half the players away. We obviously wanted our players to do well and I knew how much winning the World Cup meant to New Zealand as well. Anyone who was there knows it was a tense last minute.”
After emphasising that France had the quality of players to win this competition, as well as that final four years ago, Cotter was asked whether the Scots had similar quality? They may have the quality but they lack sufficient depth, not that the coach was going to be drawn on the topic except to dust down his usual line which was that his team wouldn’t be found wanting for effort. It is Cotter’s habitual way of batting away any questions on possible outcomes but it does at least have the merit of ringing true.
“I really enjoy working with this group of players,” said the Kiwi, and not for the first time. “They are hard-working, humble and perhaps we need to repeat the good things all the time to get to the top level and develop confidence through this. I’m enjoying this, we started two and a half months ago but we knew this was coming so there’s been a lot of work done by everyone in the organisation.”
And, on Wednesday of next week, all that preparation must bear some fruit.