Sunday 4 December 2016

Cotter: You have to expect the unexpected against France

Robin Scott-Elliot

Published 12/03/2016 | 02:30

Scotland head coach Vern Cotter. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Scotland head coach Vern Cotter. Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile

After the best part of a decade as a streetwise No 8, venturing where only the brave or foolhardy dare in the dark and brutal world of French forwards, as well as another eight years as a coach of Clermont, there cannot be much Vern Cotter does not grasp about the challenge Scotland face at Murrayfield tomorrow.

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Yet even after spending most of his career in France, Scotland's coach cannot help but fall back on one of the oldest lines in rugby's well-thumbed book of clichés, perhaps because he also grasps the enduring truth of it.

"With the French, you don't know what they're going to bring. Be ready for something you might not have expected," he said.

Cotter is soaked in French rugby culture. He has a soft spot for the country - "red wine and cheese - at least a good vineyard," he replied with an accompanying laugh when asked what part of that French rugby culture he would choose to bring to Scotland - and for its game.

"The French love the game, communities are based around it. You look at the culture, what French people bring to the game, and the first thing is the physicality," said the New Zealander, sounding as if he had found a home from home.

There is a clear sense it is a robust culture he relished as a player, and in his time coaching at Clermont too. As Scotland's coach he has tweaked his line-up - one that has become more physical under his guidance - to deal with the French threat, preferring the bulk and power of Josh Strauss starting at No 8 ahead of Ryan Wilson.

For France, Scott Spedding is back at No 15 in an attempt to improve Les Bleus' aerial defence, but the most striking change is the removal of the one-paced Julien Plisson for François Trinh-Duc at No 10 which, allied to Gaël Fickou's return in the centre, hints at a desire to play a more expansive game. (© Independent News Service)

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