Vern Cotter cautious ahead of pivotal year for Scottish rugby
Dark Blues head coach refuses to get carried away by autumn success as focus turns to the start of the 2015 Six Nations in February
When Scottish Rugby and Vern Cotter struck up a deal for the Kiwi to become their new head coach, a spanner was thrown in the works by the president of his then current employers, Top 14 side Clermont Auvergne.
With neither side willing to budge on the contract obligations and the financial repercussions of a pay-off, the Scotland national team had to wait a whole season before they finally got there man into BT Murrayfield.
Seven matches down the line from taking charge in June, it appears the wait has been worth it.
This year started badly with another forgettable Six Nations campaign for the Dark Blues, as director of rugby Scott Johnson took charge and ruffled a few feathers with his team selections along the way.
To come back and think we can reproduce the same stuff is a trap. That’s dangerous.
Duncan Weir’s last-minute drop-goal against Italy in Rome ultimately saved them from an embarrassing whitewash, following a dismal 51-3 defeat to Wales in their final match in Cardiff. It was a backward step from the year before, when Scotland finished third.
Cotter was fully on board for this summer’s gruelling four-match tour of the Americas and South Africa. Three victories, against the USA, Canada and Argentina represented a positive start for the Kiwi, as a rejuvenated Scotland lead by Edinburgh Rugby’s Grant Gilchrist restored some pride and confidence in themselves.
“We have seen character, an ambition and desire to play,” Cotter said.
“The players are playing for each other and the shirt, and that is pleasing to see.”
The viagogo Autumn Tests produced more optimism and confidence with deserved victories over Argentina and Tonga, while Cotter’s men just came up short against a much-changed New Zealand outfit.
“We have set standards, and we need to keep developing them,” Cotter added.
“My job is to develop the qualities we have seen over the three games.”
Cotter is no stranger to success. He found immediate success in his first season in France as Clermont defeated Bath 22-16 at The Stoop in May 2007.
He also coached Clermont to the French championship title in 2010 after three consecutive years as runners-up, and Les Jaunards lost 16-15 to Top 14 rivals Toulon in the 2013 Heineken Cup Final in Dublin.
The 52-year-old Davenport-born coach has one of the best poker faces in the business, win or lose. He does, however, speak with a great understanding and knowledge of the game and, by all accounts, is a popular and respected figure by his players.
Cotter is clearly happy with how his team have finished out the year, even if his body language would not suggest it.
Scotland and Cotter can take pride and heart in their five victories out of seven since the summer, but Cotter knows his side cannot rest on their laurels.
“To come back and think we can reproduce the same stuff is a trap. That’s dangerous,” he said.
“We will move everybody forward individually, with their individual game, to improve our team performances.”
While Scotland’s international calendar year has concluded, the focus is already switching to a very busy 2015, that begins with the Six Nations in just over two months’ time, before the Rugby World Cup warm-ups in the summer against Italy, Ireland and France, and then the main event through September and October.
Already belief is high that they can be a major player in the Six Nations. Wales, England and Italy have all had hit and miss campaigns, with victories only polishing over below par performances. The Red Rose only halted a five-game losing run at the weekend against Samoa.
Scotland vs Ireland in March has the potential to be a decisive game in the championship, falling on the last weekend, with the ever unpredictable French facing England at Twickenham that same day.
Three teams went into the final round of the Six Nations this year with a chance of winning the title before the Irish achieved it to give talisman Brian O’Driscoll the perfect send-off ahead of his retirement. The Scots could well be in with a shout when they take to the Murrayfield pitch next spring.
Despite the hype, Cotter, is still holding his cards close to his chest ahead of the 2015 international campaign.
“The key thing for me is, this is great, but where do we move to next?” he said.
“We will develop the inner strength in the team, and go on to a very tough competition. The team has a soul, and wants to perform better.”