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Cotter keen to write a positive addition to cv

IT is a safe bet that the Murrayfield mandarins will be watching this afternoon's Heineken Cup semi final between Saracens and Clermont Auvergne with mixed feelings.

 Vern Cotter will be hoping Clermont's poor away form does not haunt them at Twickenham. Picture: Getty
Vern Cotter will be hoping Clermont's poor away form does not haunt them at Twickenham. Picture: Getty

In some ways, they can't lose; in others they can't win.

The big issue is over Vern Cotter, the Clermont Auvergne coach, who is due to take over the Scotland national team in June. On one hand, the lighter the club workload he faces in May, the more time he will he able to devote to planning his takeover once he joins the international side at the start of the North American leg of the tour. Presumably that would be welcomed since it increases the chance Cotter can give himself a sprint start in his new job.

On the other hand, there were more than a few red faces around Murrayfield last year when his appointment was announced. Clearly those in charge had hoped to be able to announce that the coach who had won the Heineken Cup, the French Championship, or both, had been head hunted to take over Scotland -cue the cheers and nobody would question that he was worth the 12-month wait.

Only Clermont won neither. A sloppy final quarter cost them the European trophy and with their heads still spinning from that setback, they were knocked out of the running for the French title by Castres the following week. Cue the throng wondering if Cotter was all he was being built up to be. For those who gave him the job to be able to say "told you so" after this campaign would give them much pleasure.

Not that there are any guarantees that Cotter's team are going to make it even as far as the final. In common with every other French club, Clermont have a lousy away record this season so the trip to Twickenham to face Saracens is no gimme, particularly after injury cost them the services of a few of their key players, including Aurelin Rougerie, their inspirational centre and captain. Former Scotland stalwart Nathan Hines is there, however, for his latest stab at European glory at the age of 37.

Though Clermont have won their last 75 home matches, they have been beaten on the road already in this year's Heineken Cup and have won only two of their 13 away games in this sesson's Top14, so they are vulnerable away from the Stade Marcel Michelin and Cotter knows Saracens have the equipment to take advantage.

"We are determined to do well, trying to concentrate on what we can control," he said. "They have some very good players who can break out, breach your defence and cause trouble. They are opportunist, they wait for you to make a mistake and are very quick getting people in behind it and punish you for it."

If they do fail, then you can be sure that a Scot has helped heap misery on his future coach, with Kelly Brown restored to the Saracens line-up in his best position of blindside flanker. After suffering all the messing about inflicted on him during the Six Nations, he will have several points to prove to the head of the new regime who takes charge in June.

Whoever wins will have to wait a day to find out who they play in the final, with Toulon and Munster not facing off in Marseilles until tomorrow afternoon. Jonny Wilkinson is back for the French club aiming to postpone his final European game, at least until the end of May. Though Munster are at full strength, it would take another of those memorable and magnificent Heineken Cup performances that they specialise in to dethrone the champions in their own back yard.

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