Thursday 21 September 2017

Cotter signs off on high note as Scotland surge up rankings

Scotland 29 Italy 0

Scotland's Huw Jones makes a break chased by Italy's Carlo Canna with Dunbar of Scotland up in support. Photo: Ian Rutherford/PA Wire
Scotland's Huw Jones makes a break chased by Italy's Carlo Canna with Dunbar of Scotland up in support. Photo: Ian Rutherford/PA Wire
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Stern Vern leaves Scottish rugby with a smile on its face. The stone-hewn Kiwi has not flashed many of his own during his two-year tenure and the weather for his farewell was suitably dour but there is no questioning what he has done here. Not only has he lifted Scotland back on to its feet but he has also got those feet moving happily, writes Robin Scott-Elliot.

This was a routine win over a struggling Italian side, far from the best performance of Cotter's time, but it says plenty for him that Scotland can win like this.

Tries by Finn Russell, Matt Scott, in a welcome return for the Gloucester man, Tim Visser and Tommy Seymour will not banish the painful memories of Twickenham but that performance can be set to one side when considering the overall impact of Cotter's time. England are on a different level right now.

Cotter's Scotland should be measured against Ireland, Wales and Italy, all of whom were beaten this season. Finishing with three wins for only the second time in the Six Nations and the first positive season in the wins column for 11 years represent a notable step forward and Cotter deserves due credit. "We'll give him a good night," promised Russell. Those who planned his surprise departure will have fingers tightly crossed they have not dropped the ball with the tryline gaping. He leaves with Scotland ranked five in the world - a record high that appeared improbable when Italy won on their previous trip to Edinburgh to whitewash Cotter's opening Six Nations.

Scotland's four tries took their total for the campaign to 14, their best ever in the Six Nations. Another 14 reasons for players and supporters to bid Cotter an extremely fond farewell as he heads off to Montpellier. "He's had a fantastic contribution to Scottish rugby, he's built a fantastic culture in the team, he's a great man," said John Barclay, Scotland's captain. "We really wanted to give the coaching team a good send-off." He departs with 19 wins from his 35 games, the best win percentage of any recent Scottish coach.

What Conor O'Shea would give for such a turnaround on his watch. The Azzurri have now lost 12 successive Six Nations games; a very dirty dozen. Italy were so poor O'Shea had flung on five off the bench by the 53rd minute. In the opening 15 minutes of the second half they camped on the Scottish line only for the hapless Angelo Esposito to butcher two gilt-edged chances. It was grim stuff.

Scotland's Alex Dunbar is tackled by Italy's George Biagi. Photo: Ian Rutherford/PA Wire
Scotland's Alex Dunbar is tackled by Italy's George Biagi. Photo: Ian Rutherford/PA Wire

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Scotland's Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg, and Tommy Seymour celebrate after the match. Photo: Ian Rutherford/PA Wire
Scotland's Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg, and Tommy Seymour celebrate after the match. Photo: Ian Rutherford/PA Wire

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