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Cotter takes Scots up RWC peak

2015-10-17 14:55
Vern Cotter (Gallo)

London - Vern Cotter has not shirked controversy nor his duty to get the message over to his Scotland charges that they had to toughen up to achieve Rugby World Cup success.

He brought in foreign-born Scots, made them all march up a mountain and now a big peak looms when Scotland face Australia in the World Cup quarter-final on Sunday.

Since he took over as Scotland's coach in May 2014, the 53-year-old New Zealander has known that not everyone would agree with his decisions, including his team selections.

"That's their right, isn't it?," he said. "Everybody has got an opinion. We are just focusing on what we think is the best thing to do to move forward. I don't expect everybody to agree."

Cotter knows about determination.

He played for Counties Manukau in New Zealand and for French clubs before becoming coach of Bay of Plenty in the New Zealand National Provincial Championship.

He was Crusaders forwards coach when they won the southern hemisphere Super 12 championship in 2006 and went from there to take over Clermont in France's Top 14 the same year.

They finished second three seasons in a row before Cotter could claim a title.

He switched from the heights of Top 14 to the lower levels of the Six Nations with Scotland in 2014.

Cotter said he knew it would be "a long hard trip" to the World Cup.

He sought a mixture of "battle-hardened" and "new talent" in a bid to reinvigorate a Scottish side that missed the 2014 Six Nations wooden spoon with a last-gasp drop-goal to beat Italy.

But Scotland lost every game in this year's Six Nations, including a defeat in the finale to champions Ireland - a side coached by Joe Schmidt, Cotter's former assistant at Bay of Plenty and Clermont.

Ireland won 40-10 at Murrayfield and Cotter said of the result: "There were things that were brought home with brutal clarity."

So Cotter took his pre-World Cup squad to the French Pyrenees in June.

Eric Blondeau, who worked with France's special forces, talked to them about handling stress. French commandos led the Scottish squad up a 1,800 metre mountain.

"Vern and the coaches said they want to make us comfortable in the uncomfortable situations," said 2.1 metre lock Richie Gray of the boot camp.

"I wouldn't say he is radically different to other coaches but he is very focused on bringing us together and making us remember we are playing for our country."

Cotter took his revolution to the World Cup squad selection.

Backrow Josh Strauss and prop Willem Nell were born in South Africa. Zimbabwe-born David Denton also speaks Afrikaans. Tommy Seymour was born in the United States and Sean Maitland played for New Zealand's Under-19 and Under-20 teams.

Blair Cowan, a late replacement for the injured Grant Gilchrist, is also Kiwi-born.

The most contentious move was bringing in John Hardie, who qualifies through a Scottish grandmother but who only arrived in the country in July.

Former Scotland and British and Irish Lion prop Peter Wright said that choosing Hardie over John Barclay was an "absolute disgrace".

But second place in Pool B with three wins and impressive performances by Hardie have won over the doubters.

No-one expects Scotland - who failed to get past the pool stage in 2011 - to beat Australia but a braveheart performance will bring Cotter, whose contract has been taken through to 2020, more credit.

"Overall Scotland are going in the right direction and Vern Cotter has done a very good job," said Japan's coach Eddie Jones after his side's 45-10 pool loss to the Scots.

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