Vern Cotter's selection of fellow New Zealander Hugh Blake in Scotland's Six Nations training squad might have sounded a few alarm bells in some quarters, but Scotland assistant coach Matt Taylor has insisted that his boss's Caledonian credentials are sound.


Ahead of last year's autumn Test series it was Taylor who revealed that Cotter had made it his business to research what made Scottish sides click in the past, and the coaching team will be sticking to the formula of being true to the side's DNA as they head into this year's RBS 6 Nations Championship.

"Vern made a huge difference on lots of levels," said Taylor, who joined the Scottish backroom team during Andy Robinson's last year in charge. "The thing that stand out for me is that he's brought a style that he wants Scotland to play that is based on how the really good Scottish teams in the past have played, and we've worked really hard on working our game around that.

"It's about the cultural side of things, a Scottish style of play, what has made the great Scottish teams of the past, and Scotland's sporting stars in general. He's been very good with that. He's straight-shooting in what he wants individuals and the group to do. He has a presence about him, just because he's a big guy and is direct I suppose. He's been excellent for players and staff and you can see that in the results we've had."

Yet for all this wha's-like-us claymore rattling, Cotter's most valuable attribute ahead of Saturday's clash with France in Paris is more likely to be the inside knowledge of the opposition he gained during his seven seasons as head coach of Clermont Auvergne. Cotter played down that background when he was asked about it last week, but France coach Philippe Saint-Andre admitted that he was concerned by his opposite number's insight.

In that regard, Taylor put himself firmly in the Saint-Andre camp when he took a break from training at Murrayfield yesterday. "Vern's got the knowledge of 16-17 years there as a player [mostly with lower division sides] and as a coach," the defence specialist said. "He knows what makes individuals tick over there. A lot of players are from Clermont and he certainly knows what makes them tick."

The Scots will name their team to face France on Thursday. Today, however, the players in the frame will go through what is likely to be the most challenging training session in their build-up programme as the pressure and intensity builds. According to Taylor, the first week of the squad camp was dominated by medical matters, analysis work and suchlike, but the countdown to the game itself has now begun.

Taylor said: "Last week we had a lot of good meetings and we prepared ourselves as best we could, but there were a lot of bumps and bruises we had to deal with and in those circumstances you don't always get as much full-on training as you'd like. This week there are three or four sessions to go and a lot of the hard stuff comes in, particularly on Tuesday when we have our contact session.

"We're very close on selection. There's a few little things we have to pass by in terms of medical stuff and things like that, but we're close."

Scotland have not won in Paris since their championship-winning season in 1999, when they routed France 36-22 in a game that produced what was arguably the most purple patch in Scottish rugby history as they played brilliant heads-up rugby and ran in five tries in the space of 20 first-half minutes. Taylor admitted that the coaching team of today had not studied that victory at any detailed, technical level, but acknowledged that it still held lessons for today.

"What you take out of that game is they executed and took opportunities, and that's still the way to do it," he said. "On the day they executed really well and took the game to France, controlling play and running the ball. Everything seemed to pay off.

"France were two or three tries down before they had a chance to scratch themselves. You're playing catch-up then, pressure builds and you're forced into a different style of rugby from what you've maybe prepared for.

"We'll play with ball in hand when we need to, kick when we need to, take opportunities when they come. That's something Vern's been good at again, not doing the same things in the same situation, seeing what the opposition do."

Taylor also said he had no qualms about the decision to bring Ryan Grant back into the Test squad just a few days after the assault charge the Glasgow Warriors prop had faced at Glasgow Sherriff Court produced a not proven verdict. Grant's speedy return has caused disquiet in some circles, but Taylor suggested that the player was ready to get back into the saddle of top-flight rugby again.

"I haven't had a chance specifically to talk to him," said Taylor. "But from what I can see he seems to be in a good space. What he's gone through is over and now he's here to focus.

"I'm not privy to what he did during his time off, but as a professional I'm sure he'll have kept himself in good shape. He's got a full week's training this week. Even if he had last week off, in the weeks before that he was in full training in Glasgow. I'm sure he's done the work himself because he's a professional."