Saturday 29 July 2017

Flying Scots show what Cotter has achieved

Scotland's head coach Vern Cotter. Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA
Scotland's head coach Vern Cotter. Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA

James Corrigan

Strange as it may seem in this sporting era of self-interest, there are players trying to do their best for a gaffer who they know is leaving in two games' time. But then the case of Vern Cotter and Scotland is curious indeed.

Here is a coach who, in less than three years, has taken the national team to within a point of the World Cup semi-finals and from Six Nations no-hopers to contenders. On Saturday, he presided over Scotland's first win over Wales in a decade and it was not just any old win as the 29-13 scoreline reflects.

Here was a coach subtly changing the tactics at half-time with his team coming off second best, a coach who knew exactly what was required to get the most out of his players and effect a famous triumph, a coach who really should not be making way for Gregor Townsend, despite the latter's credentials.

Replacing Cotter will seem an absurd scenario should Scotland beat England at Twickenham for the first time in 34 years and lift their first Triple Crown in 27 years in two weeks' time.

Tim Visser spoke for all of the squad when he said: "We want to do it especially for Vern. The fact that he is leaving has really put a date on the end of this period. We're trying to leave him with as much as we can. He's put a lot of hard work into getting this team going forward. We want to show him that we have improved."

The wing is living, bequeathing proof. Visser helped set up the Tommy Seymour try which grabbed Scotland the lead and impetus. He stopped Rhys Webb from scoring as Wales looked to strike back at 19-13 down. And to cap a display that could be described as "match-winning", alongside that of Fin Russell, he clinically took his own score which killed the game. "But I was most pleased with my work under the high balls," Visser said. "It's something I've worked on a lot."

Visser has done so in the shadow of Twickenham for Harlequins and, like every Scot on Saturday, "HQ" was on his mind.

Underestimate

"I live quite close to Twickenham but don't like it very much," Visser said, getting his dig in early. "Look we haven't won there since 1983 and I wasn't even born then. You can't underestimate England, and we will have to up our game. But we are building on performances under Vern and knew this kind of form was coming.

"We do believe we can win there. Vern is very hands on and makes it very clear what he demands from us in certain areas. You saw that against Wales. We altered our game plan slightly and got the rewards." So what did the canny Kiwi do to change momentum, with Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric in control on the ground up to the break? Ian McGeechan, who was in charge of those legendary 1990 champions, applauded Cotter's "tweak". "They had to speed up the game, and they did so by going to ground earlier, putting the emphasis on clearing out the first man to reduce the potential for turnovers," he said.

The former Lions coach also questioned why Cotter is leaving, saying that with Murrayfield at last rocking again, the Scottish Rugby Union "might end up looking silly". He was being exceedingly kind.

Cotter has been aided by the arrival of some special talent - Stuart Hogg being the most obvious and thrilling. And Hamish Watson's contribution was so immense when coming on that the news that John Hardie is out for the rest of the Championship with a knee injury is not as bleak as it might seem. But nobody can deny Cotter's remarkable impact.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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