Six Nations
Vern Cotter sets his Eyes of Ice on Six Nations
Tom Hamilton
January 29, 2015
Vern Cotter watches on © Getty Images

"I think his nickname in France was 'les yeux de glace' - the eyes of ice," says Joe Schmidt of his old Clermont Auvergne boss Vern Cotter. "He didn't have to say anything and he would strike some fear and that was just with the coaching staff let alone the players."

As the northern hemisphere season ticks over into the Six Nations championship, Cotter and Schmidt will be on opposite sides, friendship will be temporarily placed to one side. Their wives will meet up in Edinburgh on the day of the game between their Scotland and Ireland sides on March 21 to catch up and shop while their husbands go about the final preparations.

"He's much better than me," Cotter said. "That's what's great about the game. We've got a solid friendship, we've had the good times and a few bad ones. We'll like to have a beer and talk about how the families are doing but I know he's preparing his team and he knows I'll be getting mine ready."

For Schmidt, he knows what it takes to win the Six Nations having steered Ireland to the championship last year. There are the dangers of second-season syndrome but he will already be mindful of how to combat that. Yet for Cotter, this will be his first championship with Scotland.

Wednesday's press conference at the Hurlingham Club in London would have had an element of the familiar for Cotter. He has faced the media on countless occasions but this was his first taste of the hype and expectation of a Six Nations as Scotland boss. While there was no talk of the controversial call-up for the unproven Hugh Blake - that was covered last week - he fielded questions over patriotism, pressure and being the new kid on the block.

The patriotism question and the extent of national rivalry is one which is broached most years. Professionalism is meant to have taken a slight edge off the enmity between two different sets of countries but such is the spread of talent across the world, players are familiar with each other and there is not the same significance of entering a foreign land.

New Zealand-born Cotter was asked whether patriotism still plays an important part in the build-up to Test matches. He looked a little tentatively to his captain Greig Laidlaw to answer - "it's big in the Scotland camp" - before providing his own take.

"It's the emotional tie to you, it provides you with motivation and strengthens the reasons why you do things. There's a real sense of pride within this group."

Then pressure. Cotter's side showed signs of improvement during the autumn internationals and he has already made his share of controversial calls with Blake called up and last year's Six Nations captain Kelly Brown exiled. But this is all new. Cotter is no stranger to pressure - his old haunt Clermont Auvergne is a club with huge expectation.

"It just comes. I had it at Clermont the whole time but here it becomes more intense around game time. It's part of the scenery but we just look at what we are doing and try and do our best.

"There will be times to look at players and other moments for them to put their hands up. We'll have to adapt and that's one thing I am looking forward to seeing the group do. They'll need to adapt under pressure and in situations both before and during the game."

And then there is the new experience of a championship. You sense with the quietly-spoken Cotter that he has it in his arsenal to throw a few Gatland-style grenades in the build-up to games. You also feel that if someone needs a dressing down he will be capable of handing it out. But as he sits and speaks the next level up on a whisper - until he broke into French when he became much more animated - there is an aura about him.

Laidlaw was asked about his new boss and responded, as you'd expect, with the "he's great" line but the scrum-half is an old-hand at the championship and is currently preparing for his fourth Six Nations. It is a step into the unknown for Cotter.

"I am slightly nervous but I'm really looking forward to it. The players have a desire to do well and surprise a couple of teams. We have three home games and we want to perform well in them."

Scotland are an unpredictable entity heading into this championship. They are at the bottom of the Cotter staircase but if the record of the other two New Zealand-born coaches in the Six Nations is anything to go by, then he is likely to be a success.

It all begins on February 7 against France in Paris. Cotter will soon find out first hand exactly what the Six Nations means to the players and supporters. Schmidt experienced that last year and flourished and in his mind Cotter will feel right at home in the championship.

"I certainly thought that whatever he chose to do he'd end up doing," Schmidt said of Cotter. "He's got the equity to do it, the drive to do it and he has a presence to lead people. It's going to be a big weekend for both of us at Murrayfield at the end of the Six Nations."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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