Vern Cotter applied to be Scotland rugby coach because he was tired of others making the Scots out to be a joke.
The New Zealander will have the last laugh on Saturday.
That’s when he controls Scotland for the last time, his tenure as national coach effectively over after Italy’s visit to Murrayfield in their Six Nations finale.
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Whether the Scots place second or fifth, they have been transformed by Cotter into a side worth watching again.
He’s made them exciting. He’s made them take more responsibility, think for themselves, and develop a mindset to close out tight games.
He’s opened dialogue, made them embrace self-expression, encouraged them to attack, and lay their bodies on the line in defence.
Cotter didn’t lead them to any trophies in three years, but they were seconds away from their first Rugby World Cup semifinal, and turned from Six Nations road kill into title contenders.
He won’t talk about his reluctant departure – his contract wasn’t renewed – until after the match, and has gagged his players from talking about him to focus on winning.
But here’s what some have said:
HENRY PYRGOS (scrumhalf)
Vern won’t want us focusing on him but it will definitely be something in the background. We are conscious that we want to finish his reign in the right way. There’s still a chance we can finish second so we have to get ourselves up for that. Before Saturday we were fifth in the world rankings, so you can see Vern has given guys a lot of confidence and great direction.
JOHN BARCLAY (flanker)
That’s probably the measure of the man, that he’s not interested in the accolades, not interested in people playing for him or the other coaches who are moving on.
FINN RUSSELL (flyhalf)
He’s known he has been leaving but he has still given this competition his all. He wants to be as successful as possible.
TOMMY SEYMOUR (winger)
A very scary man. He came with a massive reputation. He’s a big man, I’m fairly certain he could crush me with one hand. He was a guy that clearly had a vision, had a lot of direction, very detailed, demands high standards, like the players was fed up with the way people perceived Scottish rugby. It was great for a playing group to have a coach who felt that way, and was quite vocal about it as well.
GREIG LAIDLAW (captain)
We are miles ahead of where we were when Vern first came in. We are playing with a lot more confidence, each and every player understands what their job is within the team. We have developed our skills sets, which is something Vern has spoken about since he came in. It’s about trying to develop and become better rugby players, better leaders, and having a better understanding of the game. We are starting to strike a good balance between that now.
HAMISH WATSON (flanker)
Vern gave me my debut cap and I didn’t play for a while after that. It’s hard to take for any player, but any player will have had one or two setbacks in their career. Vern was very upfront with me, very honest with me, and gave me a few things that he wasn’t happy with in my game. I’ve got better at those things and I’m getting picked.
DUNCAN WEIR (flyhalf)
He leads the teams into battle. He wants us to go out and play and express ourselves, and that is a great thing as a player collective, that we’ve got the belief of the coaches and that he’ll back our decisions on the field 100 percent if we have good reasoning behind it, and we’re in the structure that they set. We’re in a good place. We’ve brought that pride and sheer determination to succeed for a whole nation, not just yourself and your family.
ROSS FORD (hooker)
The atmosphere is positive. It’s a big change from previous campaigns. It leads to winning, enjoying your training and playing in a more adventurous manner, everything just gels together. Vern has been brilliant, I can’t speak highly enough of him. He is very laid back but he gets his point across. You have to perform under pressure, but Vern doesn’t come across as putting you under pressure. You know what has to be done and he backs you to go out and make the right decisions on the park.
STUART HOGG (fullback)
We’re very much a work in progress, but since Vern came in we’ve come on leaps and bounds.
JIM TELFER (predecessor)
He’s done a remarkable job. The players know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing individually and collectively. The New Zealanders talk about producing good rugby players but also about producing good men. That’s what he’s doing. He’s a journey back to the old type of coach, a hard man who understands the Scottish philosophy. Scotsmen will run through brick walls for you if you treat them properly and if they’re the right type. When I heard he was leaving, I was disappointed.