René FONTÈS, president of Vern Cotter’s club Clermont Auvergne, has suggested that the delayed arrival of the incoming Scotland coach was as a result of a personal decision by the New Zealander, rather than the absence of a compensation payment by the SRU.
Cotter was confirmed on Monday as the new incumbent in the Murrayfield hot seat, but he will not take up his position until the summer of 2014. And it has been mooted that the delay was a result of Scotland bosses being reluctant to stump up a substantial fee to buy out the remaining year of his contract.
However, Fontès has hinted that it was Cotter’s determination to do the right thing that prevented him from coming sooner.
“We were close to losing him this year,” he admitted. “He could have left us in a difficult situation but I know he did not want to damage the interests of the club.”
And, although Cotter’s input to the Scotland set-up will be in an advisory capacity until next June, the 71-year-old president believes family considerations weighed heavily on the decision for the second longest-serving coach in the French Top 14 to move away from club rugby.
He said, “People don’t understand how difficult it is to last at a French club – with the exception of Guy Novès at Toulouse (the longest serving coach). The work of a coach is wearing and tiring, especially when you have Vern Cotter’s level of professionalism. He possibly also needs to give himself a boost and to strike a balance in his family life.
“The final decision was made a month ago. We did all we could to keep him, but there were arguments that we just couldn’t match, linked to his career and his personal life. His ambitions are genuine and there is logic to his choice.”
Fontès, who was responsible for luring Cotter to the French outfit six years ago, is retiring from his position, leaving the task of finding the new man in the hands of his successor Eric de Cromières.
The president and coach have enjoyed a harmonious working relationship, as Cotter has engineered the club’s transformation into realistic challengers for the domestic title and the Heineken Cup, albeit they were unsuccessful on both fronts this year.
“I believe he wanted to give me something when I leave the presidency and he was hurt to have won nothing,” added Fontès, who feels Scotland are acquiring the services of a man whose abilities are unrivalled. And he has warned De Cromières to tailor his search accordingly as he seeks a replacement.
“When he arrived, Vern had everything to do and he has created everything. To look for another Cotter would be a major error, because such a person doesn’t exist,” he added in an interview with a French newspaper. Speculation has now begun in France over who might fill the vacancy. The identity of that individual may be significant for bosses at Murrayfield, who could get their man ahead of schedule if the incoming coach wants to take over sooner.
Among the favourites is Clermont assistant Franck Azéma, who will have greater responsibility in any case, as Cotter performs his consultancy role alongside Scotland director of rugby during the 11 test matches between now and when he assumes responsibility on a permanent basis.
Fontès believes that the man currently at the helm should have an input into selecting the new coach, stating, “The solution lies with my successor. I will advise him to work with the team that is in place, particularly Vern Cotter. His advice will be invaluable. I would find it incongruous not to listen to him when it comes to choosing his successor.”
And he offered an insight into the character of a man, who is reputed to be a fearsome character on the training paddock and a demanding but fair individual when it comes to the expectation he places on his players.
“Vern is like me – under his gruff exterior is a highly emotional person. He is a man with whom I am proud to have worked. Between us, it all started with a phone call and it ended on Saturday with an embrace.”