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.