Friends, rivals and even a budding comedy double-act - Vern Cotter and Joe Schmidt will go head-to-head as coaches on the Test stage for the first time this weekend when Scotland host Ireland in the final round of the Six Nations
It will be a case of fingers and toes at the ready on Saturday, as everyone tries to calculate the points-difference totals of England, Wales and Ireland to determine who will win the RBS Six Nations title. And while those mathematical equations will definitely be at the forefront of Ireland coach Joe Schmidt’s mind, he also jokes he will be worrying about family finances as his and Vern Cotter’s wives set out on a re-union shopping trip in Edinburgh.
Scotland coach Cotter and Schmidt coached together at Bay of Plenty in 2003-04 and Clermont Auvergne from 2007-10, so their wives are looking forward to a bit of a catch-up.
“Vern and I are a little bit worried about the result (of the game) and a little bit worried about the credit card damage. It’s going to be a big weekend in Edinburgh!” laughs Schmidt.
Cotter was Schmidt’s boss at Bay of Plenty and Clermont, but it is Schmidt who has made the bigger impact on the Test stage so far, winning the Six Nations title with Ireland last year and claiming the scalps of Argentina (away, twice) and South Africa and Australia in Dublin last autumn.
Cotter is full of praise for his friend and former protegee. “He’s much better than me,” he says. “He is a smart man. He has brought that team together and had some very good results. Credit to him – he’s done very well.”
However, Schmidt isn’t about to let Cotter flatter him into a false sense of security ahead of a game which Ireland need to win to stand a chance of making it back-to-back Six Nations crowns.
“I know the big fella pretty well and he’s a very astute man. He plays the Kiwi farmer thing a little bit and he likes people to under-value what he brings to a team,” Schmidt says.
“He brings an edge to training and preparation. He ensures players are really well prepared and earn the opportunity to play from week to week. Players respond to that. He is organised and intelligent.
“His nickname in France was ‘les yeux de glace’, the eyes of ice. He didn’t even have to say anything and he could strike fear, and that was just with the coaching staff, let alone the players!”
Schmidt is famous for his attention to detail in coaching and he says Cotter has a similar way of working as they grew into the management role together. “It’s something we bounced back and forth. I learned a lot about the forwards from him and he learned a lot about the backs from me, because he thought when we separated at training we were just sneaking away for a latte.”
The Kiwi connection
Joking aside, Schmidt lost out to another Kiwi coach last weekend, when Warren Gatland’s Wales beat Ireland 23-16 to scupper their Grand Slam chances. Why does he think his countrymen are so sought-after as coaches in Europe?
“The attraction is obviously not visual!” he quips, before adding: “Don’t tell VC I said that. He’s bigger and stronger than I am.
“I have known Gats a long time and I have coached a lot with VC. I am not sure what it is, other than we grow up playing the game from a young age, we live and breathe it and we are quite open about trying to progress what we are doing.”
Schmidt believes Cotter’s drive and experience will turn Scotland’s fortunes around in the end, but hopes it won’t happen this week. Cotter sums up the feelings of the two as they prepare to lock horns when he says: “That’s what’s good about the game. It’s based on friendship. We have had good times and bad times and we like to have a banter but I know he is preparing his team to give us a tough time and I am doing the same.”