THE winds of change whistled through Scottish rugby’s top coaching jobs this summer, but amidst the fanfare and commotion surrounding Gregor Townsend’s appointment to lead the national side, Richard Cockerill’s move north of the border to take over Edinburgh and Dave Rennie’s belated arrival in Glasgow from New Zealand, Matt Taylor has sailed quietly under the radar.
Since returning to Scottish shores in 2012 – following a stint back in his native Australia coaching Queensland Reds – the 44-year-old has been a mainstay for both Glasgow Warriors and Scotland. He has tasted significant success, winning the Pro 12 title with the Warriors in 2015 and playing a key role in the national team’s recent on-field renaissance. Having made such a good job of splitting his time between club and country, it will be interesting to see how things pan out for him now that his portfolio has been reduced to just one team.
“I’m still the defence coach, but solely with the national squad, which is great – it’s probably not as stressful,” he said. “Going from a Six Nations game on a Sunday to being up at 7am for Glasgow on a Monday is tough. It was awesome doing both and being involved coaching week-by-week games, but I think now, after five years, it’s a good progression for me to take a step back, take some time, and have the ability to be at a few Edinburgh sessions which I’ve never had the opportunity to do before. I’ll just be able to look at other teams, better myself as a coach and develop some depth when it comes to analysis. I might look at the All Blacks and Australia with a bit more time.”
It might be over three months before New Zealand come calling at Murrayfield, but when national coaches have such little time to work with their squads, get-togethers like this week’s training camp in St Andrews become vital.
“The All Blacks are certainly an exceptional team,” says the former Edinburgh and Border Reivers star. “When you look at them versus the Lions [in the drawn series during the summer] and versus Australia [when they ran in 54 points at the weekend], the big difference was the physicality and line speed the Lions brought. We will have our hands full when we play those two sides, but we will be working hard to shut them down, get good line-speed and be really physical in the tackle contest.”
“I think it’s been a really good initiative of Gregor to bring this camp in because we haven’t had one [at this time] since I’ve been here as a coach. I think it’s really good we’ve brought so many players in and given them an idea of what we are about when they come into Scotland. We are rewarding guys who have played well for Under-20s and who we believe are going to be important to us leading up to the World Cup.”
“But these guys have also been brought in with a view to seeing whether or not they are going to push through in the next couple of months heading into November.”
“There is no reason why if they are playing exceptionally well, they’re being picked for their club sides and they are the best player in their position, that they can’t be selected. That’s a good thing about Gregor – he’ll back performance regardless of age. In the past couple of years, Scotland has done well at building depth. You can see that by the quality of some of the players who have missed out. I think it’s a great opportunity for those young guys and they have as much chance as anyone else.”
Whilst this week’s camp has been beneficial for the development of younger players such as Darcy Graham and Matt Fagerson, it has also given Townsend and his coaching staff a chance to catch-up with senior squad members, such as Greig Laidlaw. The Scotland captain has just completed a move to ASM Clermont Auvergne on a three-year-deal, but having missed most of last season’s Six Nations through injury and the summer tour because he was away with the Lions, he now finds himself in a battle for the navy blue number nine jersey against Glasgow Warriors’ Ali Price.
“Greig has been excellent. We had a one-on-one with him and I don’t think he has anything to prove. He has been an exceptional leader for us and he has come here and trained really well. We’re excited to have him back. He is one of the best captains I’ve ever been involved with and he has led the team brilliantly. John Barclay has done a great job in his absence and it is great to have a number of good leaders who can step up. You want that in an international team. Greig has worked hard at developing those leaders as have other teams,” said Taylor.
The Aussie coach didn’t, however, rule out the possibility of Laidlaw sharing the captain’s armband with Barclay.
“That’s what we did at Glasgow. Whether it’s the right thing for Scotland I’m not sure. Gregor hasn’t spoken about that,” he stated.