Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Townsend to succeed Cotter as Scotland coach

Vern Cotter - pic © Al Ross
Vern Cotter - pic © Al Ross

It has been announced today that Gregor Townsend will succeed Vern Cotter as Scotland’s rugby coach in June 2017 when both men’s current contracts expire.

It now leaves the taciturn Kiwi in search of future employment, having taken the decision not to continue the good work he has started with Scotland. It’s a move that will disappoint many, if perhaps not surprise them. Given Jim Hamilton’s comments and the Rabbitgate furore, he’s unlikely to find work at PETA any time soon.

Announcing a succession this far in advance, it must have been clear to the SRU that Cotter would not be continuing beyond the current expiry on his contract, so there must be offers on his table from around the game. Barring major Scottish success in the upcoming Autumn and Six Nations games, Cotter will still be fairly unproven at international level so the best bets would be on a Super Rugby Franchise bridging the gap eventually to the All Blacks job that surely every NZ coach craves. Steven Hansen is not due to step down until after the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan so Vern would have 2 years to prove his credentials, ideally coaching some of the players who would be in the mix. Alternatively a return to France beckons, with perhaps the same long-term aim in mind but trickier to achieve.

No word either on what will happen to the backroom staff he has only just put in place. Fellow Kiwi attack coach Jason O’Halloran and forwards consultant Nathan Hines may now be a vital part of his team and fancying a spell on the Med. There’s an argument that says any incoming coach should be able to pick his own support team – after all Cotter was stuck with Scott Johnson’s for long enough – however Townsend may be savvy enough to keep on any who have gelled well with the players. He might also look at a more structured appointment for sometime Springbok and Blitzbokke breakdown consultant Richie Gray.

Making the change next year does however allow Townsend plenty of time to build towards the next World Cup in his own way, even if his ideal Scotland style is probably not that far from what Cotter has been trying to create. SRU targets have been lowered from winning it to semi-finalists, which is more achievable. The move also keeps hovering French clubs from inflating Townsend’s salary so much that the SRU can’t get him back later for a job they clearly see him fit for.

However the announcement leaves Glasgow on the hunt for a new head coach, which should be fairly easy to secure with the talent on their books. Retaining that talent come contract re-negotiations could be a tricky job in the short term, but the announcement of a strong successor should mean Glasgow can keep a strong squad together.

In terms of Scottish names, there aren’t too many obvious born-and-bred candidates for the top job at Glasgow. They could look towards coaches with Pro Team experience like Shade Munro or perhaps Duncan Hodge currently working on a misfiring backline at Edinburgh. It will be too soon for John Dalziell who has just joined London Scottish and Al Kellock is more ambassador than pro-coach, although one imagines he could make a good fist of it. All of these are unlikely though, I think.

If he hadn’t just joined Bath, Todd Blackadder’s name would no doubt appear somewhere in the hubbub, as may names like Bryan Redpath (Yorkshire Carnegie), or Carl Hogg and Simon Cross (Worcester)

Certainly non Scottish coaches like Blackadder should view it as a stepping stone to eventual international work down the M8, given the previous SRU history of promoting from within. Perhaps the aforementioned Richie Gray is looking to take a step up; he’s the sort of slightly leftfield but experienced name the SRU like.

UPDATE: Not long after I published it (and reading the comments) I realised I had totally forgotten Mike Blair as a potential Glasgow coach. He could be an excellent coach, but like Dalziel might it come a bit too early? Or is coaching like playing: if you are ready, you’re ready. Townsend was seen as a risk too, and they come from a very similar place in terms of approach.

It is also worth mentioning Clark Laidlaw who is surely going to come into the mix at some point, especially with Edinburgh positions also vacant next year. Scots born, cousin of Greig, son of Roy; his CV ticks a bunch of boxes in terms of different levels of experience: NZ 7s, Taranaki, Hurricanes, Samoa, London Irish. It could all depend on how Irish do this season.

30 Responses

  1. When I first saw the news I was a little disappointed as I feel that VC has done a great job in taking us forward and that he deserved another World Cup.

    Having said that if he is reluctant to extend his contract then the timing is serendipitous as it will give Toonie a couple of years before Japan 2019 to get the team playing as he would like them.

    So after thinking about it for a few minutes I can say I’m pleased with the announcement.

    Best of luck to VC wherever his path leads.

  2. Sad to see Vern go as he has added steel to the playing squad and overseen some good results and play. It would be good to see him involved with the Lions, but will most likely be positioning himself in Super Rugby for a shot at the All Blacks down the line.

    How about Bryan Redpath for Glasgow? He’s always been in and around the top of the English leagues and could be tempted away from Yorkshire Carnegie reasonably easily I’d assume. Definitely a step up from where he is at the moment and some great talent to work with if he can get players signing new contracts. Keeping the talent will be key for any incoming Glasgow coach.

  3. Only surprise is the timing of the announcement. Not always helpful to know your coach is definitely on his bike in a year.
    Also not sure about SRU management of the timings which will mean the national team and the 2 pro teams will all have new head coaches at the same time. Am I just too cynical to believe this was not intended to happen this way ? Who had the options and wanted a deal – Vern or Toonie ?
    Be interesting to see if Toonie goes for a settled 15 at national level after his famous Toonie Tombola at Glasgow over the last few years ! Anyway, the very best of luck to him – he has earned the post.

    1. Think in this day and age it would be hard to keep it under wraps. Better out in the open. Pleased to see Toonie get the job, but taking him out shows how few we have behind in the pecking order. Time to bite the bullet and start promoting our own, Richie Grey and Brian Redpath back to Scottish Rugby would be a decent start. Then there are pathways at Glasgow, Embra and LS – opportunities for guys to learn the ropes, step up and move forward, probably quicker than we might all like. IMHO, better than more highly paid non Scottish, non help. Time we stood on our own feet.

      Best of luck to Gregor, at least it won’t be boring.

      1. I think the experience in Ireland shows just what value top-level coaches can add. The legacy of Cheika, Schmidt and Lam is particularly outstanding. The SRU needs to get the best coaches apart we can afford for Glasgow and Edinburgh, nationality is irrelevant. I don’t think there are any outstanding Scottish candidates at the moment, I’d prefer to see guys like Murray cultivated under experienced and talented head coaches who can mould a set up and culture like Townshend has done. Redpath has a distinctly mediocre record, if we are looking at candidates like him we can say goodbye to our recent success in the pro-12.

  4. I’m pleased for Gregor. He has done a very good job with Glasgow and knows the Test match environment inside out as a player. Good luck to big Vern for the future. He’s pushed and pulled the national team a good way forward during his tenure. In a way, progress here can be measured not just by scores/results but by how other top tier teams regard us, considerably higher than they did just a couple of years ago. BTW, I was a bit shocked by some of the trolling on the BBC Sport comments thread attached to the Toonie news item yesterday. None from Scotland fans, but plenty of bile from around the UK and overseas.

  5. Just wondered whether Calum MacRae (7’s coach) would be in with a shout of the Glasgow job. Not sure the depth of experience in 15’s (think he was assistant at the Falcons for a while so will certainly know Mike Blair and could work well together) but certainly he is an up and coming coach who clearly gets results albeit in the 7’s environment.

  6. What will happen with Jason O’Halloran & Nathan Hines, both are potentially excellent coaches?

    If you take what Cotter has already done & add what Townsend can bring to the party it is potentially very exciting, GT will need a wee bit luck, Hogg, Dunbar, Russell, Nel, Hardie remaining healthy, Denton & Bennett finding form.

    John Dalziell / Mike Blair / Kenny Murray look to be the best options for Glasgow, hopefully Edinburgh will need a new coach as well with Sean Lineen / Simon Cross / Craig Chalmers all good coaches.

    Good luck to BVC & GT…………….& Scotland

    1. I thought Solomons already said this contract was his last? Runs out summer 2017 anyway.

      O’Halloran was getting plaudits as head coach of Manuwatu (if memory serves). I think he probably is in a better position to step up than most of the Scottish candidates mentioned. Not sure if he’s had any impact in current role though…

  7. Aye FF you are right re Solomons but IMO he should’ve been away before now, his coaching style simply does not suit Edinburgh / Scotland, he’s done well with the forwards but the backs…………………..

  8. The REALLY good news would be the departure of Scott Johnson. Wonder if Toonie has dropped that rider into his contract . . . ?

  9. Interesting comments in Tom English article on Beeb. Dodson thinks they already have the guy for Glasgow, sounds like some outside current set ups and is an appointment they hope will take Glasgow to next level. Should be announced in 2-3 weeks!!!

    1. If indeed this is correct, then it will represent an almost unparalleled piece of good planning by the SRU. Reading the article, looks clear that BVC was politely told no extension (not that he would have been short of options anyway). I expect opinion to be divided as to whether it is too early or not for Gregor, but, with a year to think about it plenty of time for him to think about who he wants in his coaching set up. For a start, Humphries I believe had better start polishing his CV.
      Also think the pundits better start rethinking their traditional take on who Gregor’s assistants might be.
      Now, let’s wait and see who the rabbit in the hat may be.

  10. Coming up on the rails on the Glasgow Forum seems to be Ben Ryan. Not sure how this would fix Glasgow’s Achilles heel of lack of genuine international front row grunt. But their new All Black hooker may help.
    Really don’t think this was all planned but if it was then one up to the SRU – and there’s a phrase I type very rarely !

    1. Which forum is that? I keep meaning to get some updated links up to places where fans can visit, we had a blogroll before but it was horribly out of date…

  11. agree humphries should go, the sight of him with his head in his hands at various times in the coaches box (whilst perhaps warranted) is not an image i care to see,…be angry, be furious , look disappointed.. but head in hands….no no no

  12. For me, in his playing days Toonie was a bit of a marmite player, flashes of genius amongst a lot of inconsistency and crazy decision making. He seemed to have a bit of a self destruct button, and my memories of watching Rugby back in those days are that he was more of a liability than an asset, and had several years of selection based on one pass. I reckon it was only when John Leslie came onto the scene that Toonie really seemed to find a bit of form, and in 1999 he was arguably the most influential 10 Scotland have had in 5/6 nations campaigns. So, playing his best Rugby, he turned his back on the National set up and became a wandering rugby nomad, only returning to Scotland when he somehow convinced the SRU that their new fledgling regional pro-team needed a novice player coach. Taking the risk on an inexperienced coach in the very early days of pro rugby in the borders was at best, a ‘questionable’ decision, particularly a Gala man who would do nothing to ease the parochial tensions that would eventually be the death of the Reivers – but as we find out in the coming years, what Toonie wants, Toonie gets.

    Following the collapse of the Reivers, does he continue to seek club rugby opportunities to continue to develop as a coach – seems logical, right? No chance, promoted into the National setup, Toonie oversaw one of the most insipid, uninspiring and unimaginative back lines in recent history (was a bit like watching the Border Reivers funnily enough). Our backs lacked confidence, and couldn’t buy a try in a Scotland shirt. The position was untenable, Toonie simply had to go. He needed to develop as a coach – maybe move somewhere low key where he could build his coaching CV…..cue lots of wailing and gnashing of teeth when Toonie somehow managed to convince SRU to parachute him into the Glasgow job, ousting Lineen, who had taken a very average Glasgow team and was putting them on the road to something special. This was a crazy decision at the time and horribly handled, and hindsight is no defence. For all we know, Lineen may have enjoyed the same success as Toonie at Glasgow, and who knows, he may even have been able to crack the European success that Toonie has miserably failed to deliver, but we’ll never know, because what Toonie wants, Toonie gets.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think that domestically at least, Toonie has found his level as a coach at Glasgow. Sure, he makes a few questionable decisions in terms of selection and bringing in new players, but he has some undoubted flashes of genius and I think spotting less well known players with bags of potential is a real strength of his, although personally, I struggle to forgive him for moving on DTH to make room for Naiyaravoro and then losing big Naks to make up for the ‘Big T’ sized hole in the playing budget.

    So as we enter season 16/17, we inexplicably have a Glasgow team that on paper, looks weaker than it has for years – backs overflowing with talent, but a forward pack that would struggle in the domestic league, never mind Pro12 or Europe. He’s got no cash left to burn after the pitch fiasco, so seems to me like a good time to jump ship….I can just imagine the conversation now…”OK, big Dodso, here’s the deal, give me the Scotland job now, or lose me forever” to which the response was apparently something along the lines of “No Toonie, please don’t go etc etc” – we shouldn’t really be surprised, because what Toonie wants, Toonie gets afterall.

  13. BBC just announced Dave Rennie from The Chiefs (Hamilton, NZ) will be taking over at Glasgow.

    1. I always thought Toonie should move to the Scotland job, it’s made for him – welcome David :)

    2. Take a bow Dodson. We now have two of the world’s most exciting young coaches working in Scottish rugby. Let’s see if he can pull a rabbit from the hat for Edinburgh’s coach.

  14. I think it is a huge mistake to ditch Vern Cotter. He brought order,discipline and adventure to theScotland set up and gave us hope for the future. I can’t think of one other leading world rugby nation who have appointed a coach with only 4 years experience. Gregor’s achievements in the Pro 12 cannot be denied but his coaching record in European competition speaks for itself, abject failure. I’m surprised that he did not want to test himself in the English or French leagues for his own satisfaction rather than settling for the sinecure of the Scotland job. It would have been more to the point if Mark Dodson had concentrated on finding a motivational head coach for Edinburgh!

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