Vern Cotter plays it cautious on Murrayfield visit

SCOTLAND’S rugby journalists yesterday attended a press conference at Murrayfield with the next national coach, Vern Cotter, but things got off to a bad start when the Kiwi admitted in his opening remarks: “I have nothing to tell you to be honest. I am really just here out of courtesy.”
National head coach-in-waiting impressed with Scotland set-up. Picture: SNS/SRUNational head coach-in-waiting impressed with Scotland set-up. Picture: SNS/SRU
National head coach-in-waiting impressed with Scotland set-up. Picture: SNS/SRU

It is not exactly what a room full of scribblers want to hear, but Cotter was erring on the side of caution, having already been badly bitten. Even if he’d arrived fresh from selecting the Scotland team to face Japan he couldn’t concede as much since he is currently contracted to Clermont Auvergne. He has already put their nose out of joint and he was determined not to repeat his previous mistake.

The last time Cotter attended a press conference at Murrayfield he landed himself in hot water with his French employers by turning up sporting more thistles than Bonnie Prince Charlie and ended up looking a right Charlie when having to apologise to one and all. Clermont were unaware of Murrayfield’s overtures to their Kiwi coach until photos of that press conference emerged, which is just one of the reasons that they, against all precedence, made him fulfil his contractual obligations by remaining in France until June of next year, just 15 months before the Rugby World Cup kicks off. Little wonder that Cotter was clad in “civvies” yesterday.

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“To be perfectly honest the priority is not there [the Scotland team],” Cotter continued. “I have just met players and the coaching team.

“It is just a quick visit. My priority is to get the family to know where they will stay for the next two years. We have looked around the countryside and we’re very impressed. We are looking for a place to set up camp from June next year. I have had the opportunity to talk with Johnno [Scott Johnson] of how he sees things moving forward from June next year.”

The Clermont coach is evidently a fisherman and one of his three kids is mad keen on horses, so he probably won’t be looking at flats in Leith. While the Kiwi was at pains to emphasise the practical elements of his visit, the Clermont coach was happy enough to blether about Murrayfield and the way ahead. When quizzed about the possible make-up of any future management squad, Cotter confirmed that he was suitably impressed by those in situ.

“They are doing a great job, there is a lot of talent, enthusiasm and energy,” he said. “There are some really good people in place. I think that is a positive. I will try to add value to what is in place in June next year.”

Cotter said that he talks to acting head coach Johnson every other week or so and that he has touched base with all the various experts, from defence to scummage via kicking, and he is slowly but surely building up a picture of the players who he will take to the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

He knows those plying their trade in France pretty well already, Alasdair Strokosch at Perpignan, Jim Hamilton and Johnnie Beattie at high-flying Montpellier, while Richie Gray and Max Evans play for the French Champions Castres.

Cotter’s problem is that the RaboDirect Pro12 does not air in France so Scotland’s domestic contingent is more difficult to assess and he knows he needs to hit the tarmac running. “I might be simulating games in my own head,” said the coach, “and I’ll compare notes with Johnno. A lot of research will be done before the month of June.”

Scotland fly out, one day after the twin finals of the RaboDirect and the French Top 14 take place, on a marathon tour taking in four countries in three continents over a month or more. Scotland play the USA Eagles, Canada and Argentina before finishing off with a game against the Springboks which falls outside the IRB’s test window.

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Depending on the mood of the PRL (English Premier Rugby) and LNR (League Nationale de Rugby) Cotter may have to do without his foreign-based players, Hamilton, Beattie, Gray, Strokosch, Evans, Kelly Brown, John Barclay, Euan Murray and possibly even David Denton if his move to Leicester Tigers materialises. That’s most of the forwards and the Bokke will have a field day if Cotter is forced to field a second-string pack.

“The South African leg is outwith the [IRB] window so the exiles will be excluded from that part,” added Johnson, putting his tuppence-worth in.

“That tour is a different tour. It won’t be an easy selection of one touring party. It is not just a squad to go there. We are playing formidable opposition in hostile environments. We want to broaden the base and make us competitive. It is not the easiest planning to work out who plays and how to get there.

“The dialogue will be between me and Vern, and I will be going over to Clermont at some stage when he sees, over the next few days, what we are looking at, the hill we are climbing and how difficult it is to juggle everything.”

Scotland’s success at the next World Cup will depend to a degree upon these two men and their ability to work in tandem and, so far, the signs are good.

When asked if Johnson would continue to be involved with the team after June of next year when the Australian reverts to director of rugby on a full-time basis, Cotter smiled and replied: “I’ll keep him on board for a while.”

Let’s hope that the entente remains cordiale.

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