Sunday 4 December 2016

'Vern shaped Joe, but he's moved on since then'

Published 16/03/2016 | 02:30

Joe Schmidt alongside Scotland head coach Vern Cotter before last summer’s World Cup warm-up game in Dublin. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Joe Schmidt alongside Scotland head coach Vern Cotter before last summer’s World Cup warm-up game in Dublin. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

There is a glint in Joe Schmidt's eye that is especially reserved for the mention of Vern Cotter's name and the affection in his voice is clear when he talks about his old colleague and friend.

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It was the Scotland coach who brought the assistant school principal from Palmerston North into the professional game at Bay of Plenty and who took him to France to work with him at Clermont Auvergne.

In both jobs, they achieved unprecedented success. The Kiwi province claimed a first Ranfurly Shield, while the French bridesmaid finally took home the Bouclier de Brennus.

In 2010, Leinster convinced one half of the partnership to go out on his own and he hasn't made a bad fist of it.

Three years later, his work with the province earned him a shot at the Ireland gig. It was almost inevitable that his old mentor would follow him into the international arena and he took over Scotland in 2014.

It took a while, but now it appears the gruff New Zealander has worked his magic on the long-suffering Scots and a combination of their World Cup performance and competitive Six Nations has many believing that this is the best Scotland team to come to Dublin in two decades.

Insights

The fact that both head coaches know each other so well adds a layer of nuance to an already interesting match-up, but having helped Schmidt prepare to face Cotter's sides at Leinster and Ireland; skills and kicking coach Richie Murphy has played down the insights he might have.

"I would say going back through the years, Vern shaped Joe in some ways in those early years." Murphy said.

"But, he's obviously moved on a lot since then. We definitely get an insight into some of the stuff they're going to do and how he wants to play the game. There is definitely an advantage for us there.

"But, I would say if you were sitting in Scotland and asking the same question, they would probably give you the same answer."

Although they worked closely together for so long, Murphy believes that Ireland and Scotland approach the game in different ways.

"There's quite a difference in how they play and how they approach it," he said. "I think most coaches at this level might fit a gameplan to the players they have playing for them, where their philosophy of how they want to play the game doesn't always come through; 'this is how I want to play the game. But, these are the players I have to work with.' You kind of adjust and try and find a place where you as a coach and the players are happy.

"When we go into most matches, most teams would understand what kind of strike plays the opposition would play.

"Most teams would then try and adjust and play different options off similar set-ups.

"In relation to Vern and Joe, I don't think that's something they'll be trying to second guess each other on. But, if you look through international and even club rugby the strike plays don't change too much.

"The actual detail that's within them doesn't change that much, it's the guys that do them best are the guys that know when to pass the ball, who know how to change a line ... that kind of stuff is what makes a difference between them."

Although he wasn't willing to place this Scotland team in the panacea of great sides to have worn the thistle, Murphy does see an edge to the team that will come to Dublin this weekend, despite their losing Jonny Gray and David Denton to injury.

"He brings a toughness to them," he said.

"Their work in around the breakdown is fierce both when they have the ball and when they don't. Their tacklers are reloading into that area. They're fighting for everything.

"It will be a big test for us on how we look after our ball in that contact area in order to try and play quick. They'll be trying to slow us down. We'll obviously be trying to create that quick ruck ball that everyone wants and play off that."

The fact that captain Rory Best sat out training yesterday didn't seem to worry Murphy unduly, with the captain likely to train tomorrow in order to prove his fitness.

Assuming he does, it seems likely that Schmidt will stick closely to the side that beat Italy comprehensively last weekend and, although he said that discussions around selection will be robust this week, the former Leinster out-half admitted that there may not be much change.

"It's funny, you'd think that but we sat down last night to discuss selection and there was actually quite a lot of discussion," he said.

"Over the last couple of weeks there's been a lot of areas where we've sat down and had conversations about players for a long period of time, which probably before now it's been easier to just go 'bang, bang, bang... there's the team, off we go'.

"There is quite a lot of discussion going on between the coaches, some tight calls and I don't necessarily think that just because we won and scored nine tries to just go 'right, we'll move that into the following week'.

"It could be the case that it's the same team, but we want to try and see how those players are, how they performed yesterday and today; today was a really good session and the intensity was right up there, to see where we are.

"We're going to select the team quite late this week, it'll be Thursday before we select it."

Cian Healy is fit again after coming through training on Monday and yesterday and is likely to be named on the bench, while Eoin Reddan is also in contention after taking part in yesterday's session.

Irish Independent

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