Getting photos of their shiny new strip in the papers during a week when Britain’s Olympic heroes are dominating the news agenda was going to be difficult enough anyway, and it became a whole lot harder when the departure of stern Vern Cotter as Scotland head coach and the promotion of golden boy Gregor Townsend in his place became the only rugby story anybody was interested in. Could it be that fear of yet another leak from HQ forced the SRU’s hand ahead of Saturday’s AGM at Murrayfield?
While the timing of the announcement may have come as a surprise, the details of what is happening should not be a major shock. We all knew this day was coming at some point, and given that the contracts of Cotter and all the other key figures in the current Scotland coaching team are up in the summer of 2017, there was always a very good chance that it would be then.
With Townsend also out of contract at the end of the season, the SRU needed to move decisively to ensure that he was not lured away by a big money opportunity in England or France. By the standards of some recent debacles, this change of regime seems to be happening in a pretty orderly fashion so far, leaving the Warriors ten months to find a suitable replacement.
The Warriors have enough pedigree now as a club to be an attractive option to some high profile overseas candidates; however, it was interesting to hear SRU chief executive Mark Dodson speak yesterday about his commitment to developing young Scottish coaches and giving them a chance to shine.
If that is the case, a popular but left-field choice would be Mike Blair – who retired from playing at the end of last season to take up a coaching role with the club. Townsend has made no secret of his belief that protégé can eventually emulate the mentor, but it might be asking a bit too much too soon from the former scrum-half. Certainly, Kenny Murray may feel slightly aggrieved to be leapfrogged by Blair after three years on the Warriors coaching staff.
Edinburgh assistant coaches Stevie Scott and Duncan Hodge (who both have experience working with the national team and jointly led the capital outfit on an interim basis in the final few weeks of the 2012-13 season) would no doubt fancy a crack at a permanent head coaching job. However, given that Alan Solomons is also in the last year of his current contract, they will both be alive to the distinct possibility that an exciting vacancy could be about to open up at their current club.
Dodson and director of rugby Scott Johnson may well look south for their next Warriors coach, but that doesn’t necessarily mean appointing a Sassenach or an antipode.
For example, Clark Laidlaw did great things coaching in New Zealand, ending up as an assistant coach for the Hurricanes in 2013, before returning to the UK and joining up with London Irish at the start of last season.
Carl Hogg would be an exciting appointment, but it is by no means a foregone conclusion that he could be tempted back north from Worcester Warriors. Iif he is, it is perhaps more likely that it would be as part of the national set-up.
Former Edinburgh Accies and Scotland under-20s coach Simon Cross is also at Worcester as defence guru, while John Dalziel recently took control of the forwards at London Scottish. Both those characters would relish the opportunity to test themselves at the next level.
There is bound to be plenty of rumours, denials and wild speculation before we get to the bottom of this one, and in the meantime the priority of Townsend and his players must be to ensure that the high standards which have been set in recent years do not slip.
Much of the responsibility for this will fall on the shoulders of recently-appointed co-captains Jonny Gray and Henry Pyrgos – who attended yesterday’s kit launch and explained that their shared role allows them to each bring their own unique strengths to bear at the right moments.
“It’s something that will definitely evolve because it’s not set in stone at the moment. It’s new to us but there are teams who have done it in the past, in New Zealand particularly. In certain weeks one of us will probably take the lead a little bit more depending on the game situation, referees, and things like that,” said Pyrgos.
“When I’ve captained in the past you are not the only decision-maker. It’s not necessarily a group decision, but you usually have a quick debate about it and then go forward with the best choice. That happened last season when Jonny would usually look to another senior player,” he added.