Cot­ter shuns spot­light as he pre­pares for Scots farewell

Busi­ness-like ap­proach for head coach as Ford wins 107th cap against Az­zurri

The Courier & Advertiser (Perth and Perthshire Edition) - - SPORT | RUGBY - Steve Scott rugby Cor­re­spon­dent Stscott@the­

Legacy and how peo­ple re­gard his term in charge are a long way sec­ond to an em­phatic re­sult for Scot­land in Vern Cot­ter’s last Test in charge against Italy at BT Mur­ray­field to­mor­row.

The coach’s fi­nal se­lec­tion was con­ducted – pre­dictably – in busi­ness-like fash­ion with more con­cern about who he would have avail­able rather than emo­tion of go­ing through the process for the last time.

In the end six play­ers in doubt – Stu­art Hogg, Tommy Sey­mour, Ryan Wil­son, Finn Rus­sell, Huw Jones and Richie Gray – all came through yes­ter­day’s train­ing ses­sion with­out in­ci­dent so only Mark Ben­nett was re­moved from last week’s match­day 23.

Cot­ter has switched hook­ers, Ross Ford win­ning his 107th cap from the start in­stead of Fraser Brown, and Matt Scott has joined the bench.

Those are the only changes from the record 61-21 loss at Twick­en­ham, clearly in­di­cat­ing that the coach­ing team see that re­sult as some­thing of a blip.

True to form, Cot­ter was re­luc­tant to make any ref­er­ence to this be­ing his last test with Scot­land, de­spite re­peated and even­tu­ally al­most des­per­ate at­tempts by the Scot­tish rugby me­dia to squeeze some ex­pres­sion of melan­choly or even re­gret out of the coach.

He did re­spond with a cou­ple of jokes – say­ing he’d stay at Mur­ray­field in the next few weeks “make my­self use­ful un­til some­one tells me to b **** r off”, and con­firm­ing it was not he who kicked in the glass door of the coaches’ box when Scot­land lost to Italy in this fix­ture two years ago.

Were the play­ers dis­cussing one last big per­for­mance for the coach, who will be the first in the pro­fes­sional era to fin­ish his term with Scot­land with a 50% record or bet­ter, with cur­rently 18 wins from 35 matches?

“No, they’re not al­lowed to,” he said, his face show­ing clearly that this was not a joke.

“They’ve got plenty of other things to think about. First and fore­most is play­ing for them­selves and the peo­ple that sup­port them. We would like to see them put in a great per­for­mance they can be proud of.

“Italy are a tough team to over­come. They’ve been lead­ing at half-time in three of their games, so they’re ob­vi­ously a good team that are im­prov­ing. We’re just

fo­cused on do­ing sim­ple things well.”

Any pride in be­ing the first Scot­tish head coach to have fin­ished with a pos­i­tive record?

“I haven’t thought about it,” he said. “It’s never been some­thing I’ve thought about, I just want the guys to play well this week­end, give it ev­ery­thing they’ve got.”

He did, how­ever, con­cede that the fix­ture two years ago – when Italy scored an in­jury-time penalty try to win and the coach­ing box win­dow got the end of some­one’s boot – was piv­otal in the sub­se­quent de­vel­op­ment of his team.

“Ab­so­lutely, the mem­ory of that keeps us grounded, and just for the record, I didn’t break the door!” he said.

“That was a tough day. I think we all got some­thing from that. We cer­tainly iden­ti­fied that we were con­tribut­ing – and we still do at times – to the re­sults that went against us.

‘Some­times that was com­po­sure, dis­ci­pline was also an is­sue. So we worked on not giv­ing the op­po­si­tion what they wanted and do­ing what we wanted.”

The Eng­land match can be used in a sim­i­lar way, in the fu­ture, he feels.

“There’s a lot of emo­tional things from the game against Eng­land,” he said.

“We know Eng­land are a very good team but we came un­stuck early with the yel­low card and in­juries, and we were frus­trated that we couldn’t get hold them back.

“Any game where you score three tries at Twick­en­ham, you shouldn’t be too far from get­ting a win, but this time it wasn’t close.

“But you can turn frus­tra­tion into pos­i­tive move­ment and think­ing. That’s the key thing go­ing into the game.

“We know you can­not get a re­sult in five min­utes. We’re go­ing to have to work our way through – roll our sleeves up and work hard and res­o­lutely through the whole 80 min­utes if we want that win.”

Yes­ter­day’s full con­tact ses­sion was the first for the six who were doubt­ful, and that and to­day’s cap­tain’s run at the sta­dium will be their only ex­er­tion of the week, but with rest and re­cov­ery more im­por­tant at this stage of the com­pe­ti­tion, that was ac­tu­ally prefer­able, added the coach.

Matt Scott makes his first Six Na­tions ap­pear­ance since the Cal­cutta Cup loss last year, although he did play in both tests in Ja­pan dur­ing the sum­mer.

Vern Cot­ter, above cen­tre, has brought in Ross Ford, be­low, for his 107th cap, while Matt Scott, right, makes his first Six Na­tions ap­pear­ance since last year’s Cal­cutta Cup loss.


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