Cotter shuns spotlight as he prepares for Scots farewell
Business-like approach for head coach as Ford wins 107th cap against Azzurri
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.