Six Nations: Vern Cotter braced for Calcutta Cup curve balls
There is little in the rugby world that the garrulous Australian has not experienced – leading his homeland to a World Cup final, coaching in Super Rugby, the English Premiership, as an assistant with South Africa and leading Japan to one of the game’s greatest shocks when they beat the Springboks a few months ago.
However, he has never before tasted the unique atmosphere of the Six Nations and Vern Cotter, the calm, considered Kiwi contrast to Jones’s Aussie brashness, believes tomorrow’s counterpart could be in for a shock.
“I think it will surprise him,” agreed Cotter ahead of tomorrow’s Calcutta Cup clash. “Definitely from my perspective, it was an eye opener. It’s a very tough, passionate competition and experience does help. It does. We won’t know until Saturday after the game but it won’t be something he’s experienced before – and we certainly want to make Murrayfield something he hasn’t experienced.
“I think the intensity of it was above anything I had experienced. I think the Six Nations, if I’m comparing the two, is even harder than the World Cup, because you get such limited time in preparing the team.”
There has been a bit of sparring between the two in the last couple of weeks, with Jones mischievously trying to talk Scotland up as favourites. The pair have only come up against each other once before, when Scotland beat Japan in the World Cup pool, and when it was put to Cotter that it is “one nil to you” it was met with some amused discomfort. “Aw, no, we’ve had a bit of friendly banter up until now and we’ll just leave it at that,” he said.
Cotter is expecting Jones to throw in a couple of curve balls tomorrow but questioned how much radical change the New South Welshman could implement in such a short time.
“Looking at players and combination of players, if you are looking at the coaching staff, we know he’s taken [Steve] Borthwick from Japan and know how they prepared for us [in the World Cup], how they train. Will he be bringing in some Saracens characteristics and traits? I think so. Eddie was involved there and has brought in their defence coaches. So we’re looking at George Ford’s controlling of a game. We know how he likes to play with England and with Bath.
“There will be similar things, a couple of touches. We know he’ll want to have a couple of personal touches and some beliefs. Whether there is time to anchor those in, we’ll find out on Saturday. There are a couple of things we’ll need to be ready for. I think he’ll try to surprise us with something we haven’t seen somewhere along the line. That’s part of the challenge. The defensive line, their back attack from first-phase launch play or second and their phase, there will be something there.”
Cotter doesn’t need reminding that all five Six Nations games were lost last year and that it took time to mould the squad to deliver that improved showing at the World Cup.
“I don’t think you change things right away,” he said.
For all the optimism around Scotland heading into this tournament, it is naturally tempered with the bitter taste of experience. We have been here before in the past and been stung, with that horror record of just one opening win in the last 16 attempts.
“We’re just focusing on what we can do,” said Cotter when once again presented with that stat. “It’s a great opportunity for these players. I can want to play the game as hard as possible. As coaches we can all talk about things, but these boys go out there and get a chance to play for the Calcutta Cup.
“What a great event it is. They’re focusing on doing things as well as possible for as long as possible. We won’t particularly worry about them. Yes, we know England may do one or two things but we’re looking at ourselves and playing well together, playing for each other.. When we tick those boxes, we will hopefully have half a smile on our faces.”
Half a smile? That might well be the equivalent of a month’s worth of Cheshire Cat acts from Jones.