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'Vern shaped Joe in some ways in those early years' - Old mates collide

Ireland’s meeting with Scotland renews the friendly rivalry between the head coaches.

VERN COTTER AND Joe Schmidt have had some fascinating battles since the latter left Clermont in 2010, but their two meetings in the Test arena have seen Schmidt emerge with victory.

Joe Schmidt with Vern Cotter Schmidt and Cotter in Dublin last August. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ireland even had a party at Murrayfield after their resounding win in Edinburgh on that memorable final day of last year’s Six Nations.

Ireland and Scotland’s World Cup warm-up meeting last August was a much tighter affair, as the Scots showed their growing threat in attack with three tries during a 28-22 defeat. Cotter’s men returned from the subsequent tournament with their confidence utterly boosted.

Of course, it took some time to get over the disappointment and anger at the manner of their quarter-final exit at the hands of Australia and Craig Joubert, but this is very much a Scotland team on the rise.

After relatively narrow defeats to England and Wales in the opening rounds of the current Six Nations, Cotter’s side have been impressive in wins over Italy and France. Fullback Stuart Hogg has led their thrilling brand of attacking rugby and it appears that Cotter will take on Ireland’s Schmidt from his best position yet.

The Kiwi pair first worked together at Bay of Plenty, when Schmidt assisted the man four years his senior. They parted in 2004, Cotter for the Crusaders and Schmidt for the Blues, before Cotter got the head coaching role in Clermont in 2006 and lured Schmidt to France a year later.

They guided Clermont to their first Top 14 title in 2010, but thereafter Schmidt was ready to be his own master and moved on to make history with Leinster and then Ireland.

The long background between Schmidt and his old mate ‘VC’ makes Saturday’s clash at the Aviva Stadium all the more interesting, particularly given that the Scots look like more of a danger to the home side than they have done for some time.

Surely Schmidt has been able to provide his players and fellow Ireland coaches with many insights into Cotter’s mind?

“You could say that about Vern as well, he’s had the same insights into how Joe sees things,” said Ireland assistant coach Richie Murphy yesterday at Carton House.

Vern Cotter, Eddie Jones and Joe Schmidt Cotter and Schmidt with Eddie Jones at the Six Nations launch. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I would say going back through the years, Vern shaped Joe in some ways in those early years, but he’s obviously moved on a lot since then. We definitely get an insight into some of the stuff they’re going to do and how he wants to play the game. There is definitely an advantage for us there.

“But I would say if you were sitting in Scotland and asking the same question, they would probably give you the same answer.”

Ireland and Scotland have used a number of similar, even identical, strike plays since Cotter had taken over as head coach. One imagines himself and Schmidt sitting with a bottle of wine and a block of saint-nectaire in Clermont-Ferrand years ago constructing starter plays.

It will be intriguing to note how much double bluffing is built into both teams’ set-piece moves on Saturday. He knows that I know that he knows…

“When we go into all the matches, most teams would understand what kind of strike plays the opposition use,” said Murphy by way of shrugging off that idea. “Most teams will then try and adjust and play different options off similar set-ups.

“In relation to Vern and Joe, I don’t think that’s something they’ll be trying to second-guess each other on. If you look through international and even club rugby, the strike plays don’t change too much.

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“The actual detail that’s within them doesn’t change that much, it’s the guys that do them best are the guys that know when to pass the ball, who know how to change a line. That kind of stuff is what makes a difference between them.”

If execution is to be the decisive factor, and not coaching acumen, then Ireland have every reason to be wary of these Scots.

Joe Schmidt Schmidt is two from two against Cotter in Test rugby. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

While Ireland’s nine tries against Italy brings them to 11 in total in this championship, three more than the Scots have amassed so far, Cotter’s side have shown their ability to convert chances into scores.

That was long the issue for Scottish rugby, a profligacy in the opposition 22, but the likes of Hogg, Tommy Seymour and Tim Visser are now showing a more prolific edge.

“They’re definitely one of the better ones we’ve seen over the last four or five years,” said Murphy of this Scotland squad.

“There was less than seven points between them and England and between them and Wales. They had both of them under a lot of pressure. They had a very good win against France for the first time in a long time.

They’re coming in on the back of two wins. It is probably the first time they’ve been in this situation for a long time, they look like they’re in a decent position.

“For us, things don’t change that much. We’ve got a way of approaching all these games. We’ll be concentrating on getting those nuts and bolts right in order to be able to do something similar to what we did last weekend.”

Schmidt and Cotter will keep the niceties to a minimum before Saturday, but it is somewhat heartening to know that there is still room in the game for the two masterminds to share a bottle in the aftermath.

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Murray Kinsella

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