The departure of Vern Cotter will be “a loss for Scottish rugby” according to one of the players who will be looking to ensure the coach’s time in charge ends on a high note against Italy at BT Murrayfield this afternoon.
No.8 Ryan Wilson stuck to the script that has been trotted out from the squad and Cotter all week that winning the game is the sole focus but the Glasgow forward did concede that the Kiwi will be missed when he returns to France with Montpellier and is replaced by Gregor Townsend in June.
Scotland are looking to bounce back from last weekend’s Calcutta Cup hammering and finish a Six Nations with three wins for only the second time and potentially in a best-ever final placing of second in what will be the final match of Cotter’s three-year reign.
“Not taking anything away from the guys who are coming in but Vern’s a brilliant coach. He’s done a lot for this group, and losing someone like that is going to be a loss for Scottish rugby,” said Wilson after Scotland’s last training session ahead of today’s game.
“He’s been great throughout the time I’ve spent with him. He’s put some good things in place but we’ve got some brilliant coaches coming in.
“Another good coach now comes in and takes over. I know Gregor very well. I think everyone can see the work Vern has put in.”
Wilson added: “The culture has changed. We were always that team that were nearly there. I think we’ve got over that hurdle now. We’re winning tight games and winning games where if we are in it in the last 30 we know we can grind it out.”
Wilson is one of three players who have recovered from head knocks at Twickenham to line up today but there was a blow with the news that lock Richie Gray has been withdrawn from the side with a hamstring injury.
Gray had been listed as an injury doubt earlier in the week but was named alongside his brother Jonny when Cotter named his last ever team on Thursday. However, he has now been replaced by Edinburgh’s Grant Gilchrist, who features for the first time in this campaign, with Tim Swinson remaining on the bench as second and back-row cover.
While acknowledging the progress under Cotter and expressing personal gratitude for how the coach has helped his own game, Wilson insisted the players were following the instruction to ignore any sideshows this week.
“Go out, win the game. That’s what we’ve spoken about all week,” said Wilson. “That’s the first thing to do. Anything else is behind the scenes, we deal with what we have to deal with as players.
“That’s Vern’s nature and the mark of the man that he doesn’t want anything to be about it. But, on that, he can give a great speech. We’ve heard him speak many a time about this country and he’s definitely passionate about this job, about Scotland and you can see it when he talks to us.
“But nothing this week is about him and he’s told us that already.”
Wilson accepted that there was a need to make amends for last week’s hugely disappointing 61-21 rout by England.
“What happened last week was unacceptable in a Scotland shirt. No one wants that to happen,” he said. “We’re excited to right the wrongs, go out and put in a good performance at home. Three home wins is massive and we will be looking to do that this weekend.
“Being back at home is huge for us. Playing at home in front of a sold-out crowd, the first time we’ve sold out Italy, is testament to how well we are doing. People want to come and watch the brand of rugby we play.
“Getting the win is important. It will put us up there in the table. It is a huge game all round.”