Cotter’s culture takes root as Scots move forward together
Coach’s methods backed by legendary Telfer Passion for the shirt raises morale after Six Nations
When Jim Telfer was recently asked about Vern Cotter, Scotland’s greatest coach paid the Kiwi the ultimate honour: the Scottish coaching legend compared Cotter to himself.
Both are hard men from rural communities, reasoned Telfer; both are rugged former back-rowers who do not suffer fools gladly, know what to call a spade and the importance of maintaining an aloofness from their players. Both have taken sides with patchy records and turned them into winners. “He reminds me of me,” chuckled Telfer once he had finished listing Cotter’s virtues.
Being Scotland coach occasionally means seeing your team come off second best, but Cotter was surprisingly sanguine about Scotland’s Six Nations performance this year, when they lost all five games.
“We did lots of good things during the Six Nations and we know where we went wrong and how to fix it,” he said. “This is a talented, humble group of players who are working hard and it’ll come good.”
After a revolving door which has seen a host of coaches try and fail, Scotland have little choice but to trust in Vern. The New Zealander, for his part, gave up one of the most rewarding jobs in club rugby at Clermont-Auvergne to join Scotland and recently signalled his long-term commitment to the cause by signing an extension to his contract. He has set about trying to change the whole culture of Scottish rugby ahead of this World Cup, leaning heavily on the way it is done back in New Zealand. At Thursday’s cap ceremony at Gloucester cathedral, where Scotland’s players were presented with their caps in public, they were shown a video montage of some of the great Scottish players of the past.
It was, said the controversial import John Hardie, peculiarly moving: it gave a sense of what it means to play for Scotland. “Every day Vern reminds the squad how much it means to represent your country and the thistle,” Hardie said.
Cotter’s approach is straight out of the All Blacks manual, where values such as legacy and heritage are central to everything they do on and off the pitch. The message has been low-key, but has had a palpable effect.
“From the time I was a kid playing at Whitecraigs and GHA it was always a dream to play for Scotland but you always focus on the job in hand,” said the Glaswegian prop John Welsh. “But at the capping ceremony for perhaps the first time I felt what it really means to play at a World Cup for Scotland. Ryan Grant said he felt the same.
“We have a passionate team here, everyone is so proud to be Scottish. That’s a big part of Vern’s culture and he’s constantly focusing on that. At the leaving dinner, for example, we were presented with dried thistles, a kilt and a kilt pin. It was a fantastic moment, second only to the time I got my first Scotland shirt and my first cap. It was very, very emotional. Everyone got their own individual hand-picked thistle – I know mine will stand tall on my mantelpiece for the rest of my life.” Cotter’s attempts to build an esprit de
corps have been helped by Glasgow’s Pro12 success and Edinburgh’s European Challenge Cup campaign, which largely obliterated the memory of the miserable end to Scotland’s Six Nations.
Inspirational: Scotland coach Vern Cotter