It has been announced that Gregor Townsend is set to replace Vern Cotter as Scotland head coach in the summer of 2017.
This is news that shouldn’t come as a complete surprise to Scottish Rugby fans. Gregor Townsend is widely regarded as one of the finest ‘home grown’ coaches in the British Isles. What may come as a surprise to many is the timing. First of all, announcing it on the same day as the Glasgow Warrior’s shirt launch seemed like poor planning. Secondly, I don’t think anyone expected it to happen quite so early, with the Glasgow Warriors man set to take the reins from Vern Cotter in the summer of 2017, which leave us in a limbo year with Cotter.
WHO IS GREGOR TOWNSEND
For those of you who aren’t so familiar with Mr Townsend, here’s a brief look at him as a player and a coach.
In his club career Townsend played mainly as a Fly-half in Scotland, England, France, Australia and South Africa between 1990 and 2007 His clubs include:
Warringah Rugby Club
The mercurial fly-half also captained Scotland on 2 occasions during his 10 years and 82 caps representing the Thistle. In that time he amassed 164 points for the Scots and in 1999 managed to score a try in every single match as the Scots clinched the 1999 Five Nations trophy. Oh the glory days, hey.
Townsend was also a member of the 1997 Lions squad that toured South Africa and represented the Barbarians on 4 occasions.
When Townsend returned to Scotland to play for the Border Reivers at the end of his career, he adopted a player/coach role for 2 years, until the Reivers were disbanded as part of SRU cutbacks in 2007.
He later went on to become Assistant Coach at Scotland, as a backs coach and later as attack coach. He held these positions between 2009 and 2012 and was often criticised for a Scottish backline that struggled to find the whitewash on a regular basis.
The next stop in his career was with Glasgow Warriors. In 2012 ‘Toonie’ took over from Sean Lineen, after Lineen had guided Glasgow to the play-offs of the Pro12. Many were put out by his appointment, but Townsend has more than stood up to the mark, as his Glasgow side progressed year on year, to reach two finals, winning their second, 13-31, against Munster in 2015, making them the first Scottish Pro12 champions ever.
At Rugby World Cup 2015 Glasgow Warrior’s had one of the largest International representations of any club side, with players joining up with their respective nations.
Fast forward to Rio 2016 and current Glasgow player Mark Bennett was in the final representing Team GB, where they lost out to Fiji, who had Warrior’s fan favourite, Leone Nakarawa representing them. These two talents really came of age under Townsend. Despite having a disappointing Olympic Rugby 7s programme, Team USA also had two ex-warriors in Folau Niua and Carlin Isles. Four Olympians, not a bad record, right?
The final thing to say is that during 118 games, Townsend has a 64% success rate, making him the 6th most successful club rugby coach in World Rugby right now. For a team who have never made it out of their group in Europe, that’s not a bad percentage.
As mentioned, the timing is odd. When Vern Cotter was appointed, he spent his first year in observation, before taking over from everyone’s favourite Aussie, Scott Johnson. Now, with a year left on his contract, we find out that Cotter is to be replaced next summer by Townsend. Oh and the SRU announce this on the same day as Glasgow Warrior’s kit release.
Scotland fans will hope that this doesn’t stop progress. Despite collecting the wooden spoon in his first Six Nations in charge, Cotter has since lead his side to within an inch of the World Cup semi-finals, beaten France at home for the first time in a decade and developed a Scotland side that are beginning to look like a more serious threat in the Six Nations.
Lets just hope the players finish his tenure on a positive note.
IS GREGOR TOWNSEND READY?
This is a question many have asked. He was always expected to take over, but no one was sure when.
Ex-Scotland player turned pundit, Rory Lawson said in an interview with the BBC, that there was “shock and disappointment” at the loss of Cotter, but that “we’re incredibly fortunate that we have one of the best and most sought-after coaches in the northern hemisphere, in the shape of Gregor Townsend”.
The one thing that will give Townsend an advantage over previous coaches is his connection with the Scots, especially the Glasgow boys. He’s come from the same clubs, same systems as a lot of his players will have. He will understand what it means to pull on that jersey. On top of that, with more or less two teams to select from, (the majority currently coming from his club, a club which he has already led to silver-ware) the players will trust Gregor to coach them and to get results. He will know his players abilities inside out and will be able to bring out the best in them, just as he does at Glasgow.
Under Cotter, Scotland have developed a far more expansive style, that has been key to Scotland’s up-turn in fortunes. With Townsend the wonder boy of Scottish Rugby, who first did the ‘toonie flip’ and who’s Glasgow side are one of the most threatening attacking sides in the Pro12, at very least fans can hope for this expansive, enjoyable style of game to continue.
Personally, I always thought Townsend would coach a big European side, before making the step up. That said, with 5 years steering a successful Glasgow Warriors shaped ship and his time with Scotland and the Border Reivers, he will have experienced an awful lot to help him to make the step up.
WHAT NEXT FOR GLASGOW WARRIORS AND VERN COTTER?
There’s lots of speculation around Glasgow Warriors and who will coach them next, Stuart Lancaster and Mike Ford are both still without a job and could potentially be called in. The SRU may opt for inside recruitment. Glasgow could end up with Nathan Hines, Kenny Murray or even John Dalziel. But that’s certainly not a definitive list, it really is at a stage of speculation at this point.
As for Cotter? As the man who brought so much success to Clermont and has been at the head of Scotland’s up turn in fortunes, you’d imagine he has something else lined up.
However, before we can even think about that, the Warriors have a Pro12 title to gain and a point to make in Europe, whilst Scotland will want to bring in some consistency and be in the best ranking possible ahead of the RWC 2019 pool draws next year.
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The Scribbler, June 18th, 2016