IT IS one measure of the good work done by Vern Cotter in his three years in charge of Scotland that some players who had not even played a Test then are now firmly established as front-rank internationals. At the end of the New Zealander’s final game at the helm, it was fitting that one of those players, Finn Russell, should pay tribute to the head coach.
The stand-off scored one of Scotland’s four tries in the 29-0 rout of Italy and added three conversions, as well as showing his usual enthusiasm for the defensive chores. He and his team-mates had been told all week that they were not to indulge in chat about giving Cotter a suitable send-off, but with that final encounter out of the way he was more than happy to pay tribute to the coach.
“It was good going out there and sending him off as well as we could have,” Russell said. “He’s done so well for the team - it’s disappointing seeing him going, but we had a good game today so hopefully he’s happy with that.
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“The sort of coach and the man he is, we have so much respect for him that it was a good game to send him off. We’ve grown so much in the last three years. Although the coaches are changing, I’d imagine the team will stay the same: we’ve a good core of players.”
With so many Glasgow Warriors players in the squad, Russell included, there will be a strong element of continuity when Gregor Townsend moves from Scotstoun to Murrayfield in the summer. “Gregor will bring new things in and he’ll try and adapt what’s here a little bit,” Russell added. “The Glasgow boys will know what’s to come; the other boys will have to learn pretty quick. But having the core boys here it’ll still be a good, strong team and hopefully we’ll be able to build on that with Gregor coming in.”
Cotter himself was quietly satisfied with the solid performance that saw him end his time as Scotland coach with a winning record. Having recorded 19 victories and 17 defeats, he is the first coach of the national team in the professional era to have a more than 50 per cent success rate.
“I’m very pleased, coming from a game at Twickenham that didn’t fall our way, to keep a team tryless,” he said. “The three wins is great. It’s a reflection of the work these guys put in, the honest review from last week and the time we spent on the field this week.
“It was nice to be able to finish at home with the bonus-point win. It was the objective at the start of the game, and I thought the players worked through it well. It wasn’t always perfect, but we got there in the end. Job done.”
Conor O’Shea, whose first Championship as Italy’s head coach has ended in a whitewash, tried to emphasise the good work his team had put in, while not ignoring the many deficiencies they had shown. “I said to the players that 29-0 was an incredible result,” the former Ireland full-back said.
“There was very little in the game in the first half and it was 15-0. We still felt we were in the game, and we dominated the first 15-20 minutes of the second half. We got a yellow card [when Scotland’s John Barclay was sinbinned] - and we came away with nothing.
“It’s a difficult thing for the players to keep on taking, and we need to finish our opportunities. I felt there was little between the sides overall, but it’s never easy coming to Murrayfield. The gap is not massive - 29-0 is very hard to take as we didn’t warrant it.
“The biggest issue we have - one of many issues - is confidence. It’s very hard to take, 29-0 for all of us.”
O’Shea knows he has a massive rebuilding work on his hands; or at least part of it will be on his hands, because the malaise in the Italian game runs a lot deeper than the national team. It certainly does not look like getting any easier for him anytime soon, which will be good news for Scotland, who are due to meet up with Italy again in the first match of both teams’ summer tour.