Vern Cotter enlists help to find winning style

VERN Cotter has consulted three of the biggest names in Scottish rugby as he tries to find a ­winning style for the national team to play in.
Ian McGeechan had similar views. Picture: GettyIan McGeechan had similar views. Picture: Getty
Ian McGeechan had similar views. Picture: Getty

The New Zealander has ­spoken to hundreds of coaches and players past and present since taking charge of the ­national team in the summer, but defence coach Matt Taylor yesterday revealed the trio who have most influenced his thinking – Jim Telfer, Ian McGeechan and Andy Irvine.

While accepting that every squad has its own particular strengths and weaknesses, ­Cotter, as a keen student of the game’s history, has sought to identify the areas in which Scotland have traditionally been strongest.

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And, as Taylor explained, the head coach was heartened to learn that his own thinking was broadly in line with what the three former internationals ­recommended.

Taylor said: “We spoke in camp at Newcastle [last week] about a Scottish way of playing. We had some really good meetings there and Vern had done a lot of background, talked to a lot of ex-coaches and ex-players, about a Scotland way of playing.

“He talked to three guys in particular – Jim Telfer, Ian ­McGeechan and Andy Irvine – and then presented on what they had said. We talked about that, the Scottish way of playing, that kind of mentality. Jim’s a great resource – he was also at Glasgow the other week and it was great to get his views.

“When we’ve talked about a Scottish way of playing, a lot of things the past coaches and players came up with were very similar to what Vern wanted to play anyway. It’s merged really well.

“We watched some of the great Scottish teams of the past and a lot of that was using the ball, off-loading, and taken teams by surprise. Fancy moves or moves that teams weren’t used to. That’s the kind of thing we’re trying to bring into the team prior to the World Cup.”

Irvine won 51 caps between 1972 and 1982 and is a past president of the Scottish Rugby Union, while McGeechan and Telfer are both predecessors of Cotter’s as head coach.


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Cotter feels that today’s squad should be able to learn from the achievements of that trio and other players from previous generations.

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Taylor added: “What I’ve been excited about was understanding who we represent. Understanding that for this group of players it’s their time in the sun, but [also] understanding we’re linked to the past and those great players who have represented Scotland. Understanding there’s young children who’ll come on Saturday and see where these current players are. We have to do our best to improve the legacy and continue it.”

According to Scottish Rugby, ticket sales for the game against Argentina are on target to beat the previous record for the ­fixture of 36,000. The home crowd will be eager to see a ­repeat of the result against the Pumas from earlier in the year, when Scotland won narrowly in Cordoba during one of ­Cotter’s first matches in charge, but ­Taylor warned that the South Americans will present a fierce challenge all over the pitch, not just in their traditional strongpoint of the scrum.

“What they’ve done since the last time we played them is expand their game. Last time against us they really focused close to the ruck, but looking at the statistical return from the Championship they’ve expanded that.

“They’ve got some really good outside backs. They’re using the ball with more width and we need to adapt to that – good line speed, put pressure on them. Their 9 and 10 are very talented players. We have a good plan in place with one or two things we think might take them by ­surprise, and put a bit of ­pressure on them.

“Their scrum is very good and their lineout drive is good. From a defensive point of view you need to front up against the scrum and the lineout drive, and when they carry close to the ruck. After they’ve done that, they’ll try to attack you in the wide channels, where they’ve had a lot of line breaks statistically.

“At our attack presentation today, Duncan [Hodge, assistant coach] had some really good views on where we could attack them – statistically there’s certain areas where they’re weaker than others and we’ll go hard at them in those areas. We feel we’ve got a pretty good plan. They’ll be stronger as a group than when we played them last time – but so will we.”

Scotland won 21-19 in Argentina back in June, a result that will give Cotter’s squad a ­certain amount of confidence. But, as Taylor said, the visitors have improved since then, winning for the first time in the Rugby Championship, so nothing will be taken for granted.

He added: “We can’t sit back and say that result will take care of this weekend – it won’t. But we learned a lot from that game, and we’ve had a really good look at them from the Championship and we feel we’re understanding how they’re playing.

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“History shows most games between Scotland and Argentina are really tight Test matches, so I don’t doubt it’ll be the same on the weekend.”


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