New Scotland head coach Vern Cotter has admitted that he took advice from two proud Scots he has got to know well before he made the decision to take on the role.
Kiwi Cotter, who is still contracted to French club Clermont Auvergne and is not due to join the Scots full-time until next summer, has stated that he had discussed the job and rugby in this country with Jason White and Nathan Hines.
Both players played under him at Clermont – indeed, Hines still does – and it is clear that their opinions helped sway his decision.
Cotter spoke at Murrayfield yesterday about his joy at taking on the job, but it was overshadowed amid speculation that officials from his French club were angered by comments he had made in a morning newspaper.
The interview with Cotter in La Montagne sparked Rene Fontes, president of Clermont Auvergne, to say that he was “stunned and deeply disappointed” by some of the comments his coach had made about the club and, as a result, he would be arranging a meeting with the board of directors on Monday to discuss.
He also claimed Cotter had offered his resignation, something the 51-year-old rejected immediately.
Cotter is planning “clear-the-air talks” with Fontes on his return to France, but whether some of the things he said in the article will hasten his release from his contract is yet to be seen.
Of the article, Cotter said: “I gave an honest opinion on how I think things need to move forward at Clermont and how they need to change to keep up with the likes of Racing Metro and Toulon.
“If you look at the signings that Racing have already made, then they are going to be a force to be reckoned with and in my opinion, perhaps Clermont need more marquee signings in key positions to keep competing at that level.”
In terms of the Scotland job he was more upbeat, saying: “This is a great opportunity. I used to love watching Scotland play and I’m happy to get the opportunity to move towards the World Cup with them. When an international job comes around, it is hard to say no to.
“Johnno [Scott Johnson] has done a great job getting the team playing well. We share the same philosophy on the game and we will be in regular contact about the squad, our ideas and how things are shaping up.”
Cotter moved to avert fears that a year with the squad in the lead up to the Rugby World Cup in 2015 would not be enough to get them ready for such a big event.
He said: “There is no doubt in my mind that we can be ready for it. I do not see that being a problem. With the coaching staff we have already in place and good players and structures in place, this can only grow as we move towards it.
“Although I won’t be working with the players on a regular basis until next summer, I will aim to come over and see the guys whenever there is a suitable break at Clermont.”
Johnson, who leaves with the squad to South Africa this weekend, has become the director of rugby, but will continue as effectively the head coach until Cotter joins full-time and then will revert to being one of the coaching team.
He does not believe juggling these different roles will be a problem, though.
“I have been around the block a few times, gained experience and made some mistakes along the way. I am a grown man and I am very clear on what my roles are and I am looking forward to working with Vern.
“He is a good rugby coach, who has done well in both the north and the south, and I believe with him now in place we have a great coaching unit with which to move forward.”
Mark Dodson, Scottish Rugby’s chief executive, said: “It is a great day in Scottish rugby history. We are delighted to welcome Vern Cotter as the new Scotland head coach.
“We are now very privileged to have two coaches of this quality [Cotter and Johnson] within our business at the moment. This is a fantastic coup for Scottish Rugby and we feel that Vern will make a great impact on the squad when he starts working with them.
“When we drew up the list of who we wanted to take up the position, Vern was top of that list and although it has taken some work, we are glad that he is with us.”