Assistant coach Matt Taylor revealed that new boss Gregor Townsend had tasked his lieutenants with studying the methods of some of the most successful sports teams on the globe and reporting back at this week’s international training camp and get-together in St Andrews with ideas on how they can be transferred in the quest to develop a world-beating Scotland side.
The All Blacks, for obvious reasons, have been looked at closely but there has also been an investigation into what makes some of the behemoths of American sport tick.
“Gregor wants us to get better as coaches so he’s got us doing little tasks. Looking at the best teams in the world from different sports,” said defence guru Taylor.
“For me that’s really exciting and we present back to the other coaches. It’s a good learning environment. The other day [forwards coach] Dan [McFarland] had a good look at the Golden State Warriors, I did the New England Patriots and had a look at what they do well, our analyst did the All Blacks.
“You take bits and pieces, it might not be rugby specific, you look at the culture. I really enjoyed it and wouldn’t have had time to do that with Glasgow in the past. We might be going overseas to visit teams later in the year.
“Some things we keep to ourselves as coaches and might drip feed into the squad. Sometimes Gregor will say to them this is what this team is doing and why we think it’s good, sometimes we won’t. Mainly it’s best practice of coaching and general culture we might bring in.”
The Golden State Warriors and New England Patriots are the reigning NBA and NFL champions and Taylor believes, while basketball and American football are clearly very different sports to rugby union, there are lessons which can help Scotland’s top rugby players continue to improve.
“With Golden State, one of the cultural things that they talked about is joy and feeling good about themselves and celebrating time together.
“We try to have fun things in meetings. [Fellow assistant coach] Mike Blair brings up challenges, quizzes and things like that. Starting meetings like that gets everyone in a good mood. We talk about various things. That was something Dan brought up about the Golden State Warriors, which we do as well.”
These kind of projects are something Taylor has more time for now that the 44-year-old is focusing solely on the national team after five years in a dual defence coach role with Glasgow Warriors.
“What Gregor has been very good at with that downtime is trying to make us into better coaches, whether that’s general coaching practices or other stuff,” said the Australia-born former Borders and Scotland A flanker.
“This week we’re going to look at the All Blacks for instance. If Munster, for example, are doing something really well we’ll look at them and examine them and bring that back to the group.
“The difference before is that I was always focused on the next game with Glasgow then the next game with Scotland. Now, this week when the players go home, we’ll have more time to sit down and examine and plan for November.
“There’s a lot more detailed planning. I’ll also help the academies and do bits and pieces around that.”
Taylor said that, with the autumn Test series still two and a half months away, the main thrust of this week’s camp is to clarify what Townsend expects from Scotland and about continuing the development of that national team culture. Detailed analysis on opponents will come later, although Taylor couldn’t help but admit he watched last weekend’s New Zealand v Australia match with great interest.
Scotland face the All Blacks and Wallabies in November and a game in which the trans-Tasman rivals traded 12 tries in a bizarre 54-34 win for the Kiwis in Sydney provided plenty of food for thought for a defence coach.
“New Zealand are certainly an exceptional team,” he said. “When you look at the All Blacks versus the Lions and the All Blacks versus Australia the big difference was the physicality and line speed the Lions brought.
“Australia didn’t manage to do that and lost a few tries. But Australia were very good in attack as well. At the moment they are a very good attacking team.
“We will have our hands full when we play those two sides. We will be working hard to shut them down, get good line speed and be really physical in the tackle contest.”
Some senior players are not in attendance at St Andrews this week but Greig Laidlaw is and, following his trip with the Lions after missing the last three Scotland games with injury, Taylor sees no reason why he can’t be a leading figure in the group for a while yet.
“He has been excellent,” said Taylor of the 31-year-old scrum-half who is now at Clermont Auvergne. “We had a one-on-one with Greig. I don’t think he has anything to prove. He has been an exceptional leader for us and he has come here and trained really well. We’re excited to have him back. He is one of the best captains I’ve ever been involved with and he has led the team brilliantly. John [Barclay] has done a great job in his absence and it is great to have a number of good leaders who can step up. You want that in an international team. Greig has worked hard at developing those leaders as have other teams.”