Scots look to bounce back
Cotter aiming to go out on a high
Coach proud of record
It will be unfortunate if the lasting memory of Vern Cotter’s time in charge of Scotland is last weekend’s Twickenham mauling in the RBS Six Nations Championship.
The Kiwi, who leaves for Montpellier in June, can be quietly pleased with the job he has done in revitalising the national team over the last three years.
From wooden spoon recipients in the Six Nations two years ago, the Scots soared to a highest-ever world ranking of No. 5 under his guidance. Such was the capitulation against England, however, much of that good work is in danger of being clouded by events in south west London.
The record loss may not be as disappointing as that whitewash in his first season but it was a sobering experience nonetheless.
A rousing 2015 World Cup campaign before a controversial one-point loss to Australia in the quarter-finals will probably rank as his pinnacle. The blossoming of the likes of Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg into genuine contenders for the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand this summer is also a highlight of his tenure.
Wins over Ireland and Wales in this year’s RBS Six Nations with a blend of exciting attacking rugby, had many wondering why the SRU hadn’t been keen to extend his contract beyond June 2017.
Former international Gregor Townsend will arrive from Glasgow Warriors to take over, with consolidating the team’s world ranking a key focus.
That is for the future. This season supporters believed this could be the year for Scotland. Expectations the Scots could win their first Triple Crown for 27 years at Twickenham were high.
Those dreams were cruelly crushed by Eddie Jones’ all-conquering England side, whose pace and power had their visitors chasing shadows from the first whistle.
If this year’s performances at BT Murrayfield against the Irish and Welsh are among the best displays of Cotter’s reign, then the horror show on the banks of the River Thames must rank as the worst. It arguably eclipses the shock loss to Italy in Edinburgh two years ago.
The record 61-21 defeat was a chastening experience for all connected with Scotland, who found themselves sent homewards to think again.
Such was the manner in which the Scots folded, it may take some time for those who witnessed the events unfold to completely erase them from their minds.
Yes, injuries again played their part in disrupting plans, a recurring theme, in fact, throughout the campaign. Influential captain Greig Laidlaw and the imposing Josh Strauss were ruled out of the championship after the narrow loss to France in Paris and proved very difficult to replace.
Would things have turned out much differently at Twickenham had Hogg, for example, not gone off in the first half? It would take a brave man to argue a case.
Instead of running out against Italy in Saturday’s final RBS Six Nations fixture with the chance of a first championship in 18 years, Cotter’s men now need a performance to save face.
It is the first time BT Murrayfield has sold out for the visit of the Italians and the nation deserves a display to remember.
“We know what we want to do, that is to win the game, and know what we have to do,” said the head coach. We would like to see them put in a performance they can be proud of.”
Cotter will see out the remaining months of his contract working at club level in a bid to attract more youngsters to the game.
“I’ll be involved in club rugby, coach development and bits and pieces around the place. I’ll try to make myself useful until they tell me to bugger off!” he smiled.
“Hopefully the way the team has played has helped young aspiring athletes to pick up a rugby ball and run with it. We can see at this time of year how we are lacking in depth in Scottish rugby so the more people who pick up the ball and play it, the more quality we have coming through.
“As coaches if we can help other coaches get better through our experiences then it will have a follow-on effect. There’s a lot of enjoyment out of doing that as well.”
Cotter, meanwhile, has named one change to the starting XV to face Italy. Ross Ford will win his 107th cap as he begins his first match of the championship in place of hooker Fraser Brown, who moves to the bench.
Scotland: Hogg, Seymour, Jones, Dunbar, Visser, Russell, Price, Reid, Ford, Fagerson, R. Gray, J. Gray, Barclay (capt.), Watson, Wilson. Replacements: Brown, Berghan, Du Preez, Weir, Dell, Swinson, Pyrgos, Scott.