Scotland Rugby Head Coach: Potential candidates

Scotland rugby head coach
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Winning the Calcutta Cup, narrowly missing out to both Ireland and Wales and still with an opportunity to finish as high as second after their rearranged game with France this weekend, it would be safe to say that Scotland have had a relatively successful Six Nations campaign this time around. Something their fans will be happy about after a somewhat disappointing few years for the boys in blue. With that said, however, the debate surrounding Scotland rugby head coach Gregor Townsend’s ability as head coach and whether or not he should stay on is still very much split among fans.

While many feel Townsend has significantly helped Scotland progress since joining in 2017, particularly with some of the performances against big sides and the development of young players, others still believe a fresh face is needed in order to reach the next level. With the upcoming Rugby World Cup in mind, it can be argued that a replacement for Townsend should come in sooner rather than later, with the vision to build a strong squad and a cohesive relationship that will see Scotland push for that elusive trophy.

Gregor Townsend: Should he stay or go post Six Nations?

Should Townsend leave his role as Scotland rugby head coach, then his successor needs to be one with experience, strong man-management and a winning mentality. Last Word on Rugby has chosen five potential candidates, in no particular order, that could take over at Murrayfield in the future.

 

Scott Robertson

Bay of Plenty-born Scott Robertson began coaching in 2008 as an assistant manager to Rob Penney at Canterbury RFC on the South Island of New Zealand. He spent five years in the assistant role before being named head coach in 2013 after Canterbury won the ITM Cup. Under Robertson’s guidance, his side repeated the feat in 2015 after beating Auckland 25-23 in the final.

Robertson, a former All-Black (#974), also coached the New Zealand international U20s side while at Canterbury and led his team to victory in the 2015 World Rugby Championship in Italy. Robertson left Canterbury in 2016 to join Super Rugby side Crusaders and has been there ever since. He won the Super Rugby title in his first year as head coach, making him only the second-ever coach to win the competition in their first year in charge, behind Dave Rennie in 2012.

Since his first-year title win, Robertson’s Crusaders have gone on to win four consecutive Super Rugby trophies in 2017, 2018, 2019 and the Aotearoa exclusive tournament in 2020. Furthermore, with the Crusaders being one of the most formidable teams in the world in the past five years, Robertson has worked alongside and developed some of the best players in the likes of Kieran Read, Richie Mo’unga and Israel Dagg.

His experience of managing and nurturing some of the best players to ever play the game, tied with his ability to grind out results and win titles would be a very welcome sight at Murrayfield.

 

Rob Baxter

Rob Baxter has become one of the most well-known coaches in world rugby in recent seasons and it could even be argued that he will go down as one of the greats come the end of his career.

Baxter has spent the best part of his life at Exeter Chiefs and has taken his club from very little to one of the best sides that the world has seen in years. He played for the Chiefs for 14 years, ten of which he was club captain, and eventually became head coach in May 2009.

He won promotion from the RFU Championship into the Premiership for his side in his first season in charge and began building a team that would soon dominate the top-flight. Baxter won Director of the Year for 2011/12 and just four years later led Exeter to their first-ever Premiership title in 2016/17 with a 23-20 win over Wasps.

Then, just last year, Baxter’s Chiefs won the English Premiership and European Cup double after beating Wasps at Twickenham and Racing 92at Ashton Gate respectively. The 2019/20 Heineken Cup was also Exeter’s first trophy on the European stage.

While Baxter’s trophy cabinet is nothing short of impressive, his most admirable trait is his desire to transform a team and his dedication to sticking to that task. He has been at Exeter now for 12 years and has truly turned the tables in every way imaginable for the Devon-based side. Although it might be a tough ask to pry him away from his beloved south-coast team, if he ever decides to try his hand at international coaching, the Scotland head coach job would be a good fit and they would be lucky to have someone like Baxter at the wheel.

Pat Lam

Pat Lam, our second New Zealander on the list, has been coaching since 2003 when he got his first assistant role, coincidently, with Scotland. Lam was assistant coach to Ian McGeechan for the 2003 Rugby World Cup before he moved back home to manage Auckland for four years between 2004 and 2008 and then Super Rugby side Blues between 2008 and 2012.

Lam left New Zealand in 2012 after accepting a job to coach Samoa, the team he made 34 appearances for during his time as a player. While with Lam, Samoa secured a position for the 2015 World Cup and climbed to eight in the IRB Rankings.

After a year in charge, Lam moved to Ireland to coach Pro14 side Connacht. He spent four years in Galway and in 2016 helped them win their first-ever major trophy when they won the Pro12 with a 20-10 win over country rivals Leinster in the final.

Lam is now with his seventh team in coaching as he currently directs English side Bristol Bears. He joined the bears in 2017 and has since brought the European Challenge Cup trophy to the club after they brushed aside Toulon 32-19 in last year’s competition. The trophy was the Bears’ first in Europe.

Although Lam may not be as decorated as other coaches on this list, he makes up for it with experience. He has coached seven different teams and has traveled the world doing so, meaning he has a wide variety of playing styles and coaching techniques in his arsenal. Moreover, he has prior experience with Scotland rugby already and has come a long way since his first stint in the capital so would be a hugely useful asset to bring in if need be.

 

Richard Cockerill

The only coach based in Scotland on the list comes in the shape of current Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill. Cockerill started at Leicester Tigers in 2005 and spent s staggering 12 years at Welford Road before moving to the Scottish capital in 2017. While at the Tigers, Cockerill won two consecutive Premiership titles in 2009 and 2010.

The amount of time he spent in Leicester clearly shows the loyalty he has for his teams and underlines that he is a coach for the long-term goals, not just the here and now. Cockerill has been managing for 16 years and has been involved with just three clubs in total, with Toulon only being one of those years.

Since being with Edinburgh, Cockerill has begun to shape the side back into the force that they once were. His player recruitment over the years has been tactical and effective and unlike others on this list, he already has four years of experience working in Scottish rugby and therefore could easily transition into the Scotland head coach role. Many of the Edinburgh squad are regulars in the Scottish lineup, meaning Cockerill already has a good relationship with the players and a good understanding of how the team gel.

 

Mark McCall

Last but not least is former Ireland international Mark McCall. McCall started his coaching career in 2001 with Ireland U21 and Ireland A, as well as an assistant at Ulster. McCall helped lead Ulster to a win in the Celtic Cup in 2006 but was dismissed from his role 18 months later due to poor performances.

Despite this setback, McCall joined Castres for s short period of time and managed to ensure a fifth-place finish that guaranteed Heineken Cup qualification. Due to his success in France, McCall signed with Saracens under South African coach Brendan Venter and together they went unbeaten and won the Premiership in their second season.

In 2010, McCall permanently took over from Venter as Director of Rugby at Saracens and has been in the position ever since. In his 11 years at Saracens, McCall has racked up an incredible five Premiership titles and three European Cups and has seen his side dominate professional rugby for the best part of the last decade.

McCall is another coach that is loyal to his team but most importantly he is a serial winner. With eight trophies in 11 years, he knows how to be a winner and that is something that a Scotland rugby head coach needs above all else. Again, he may be another coach that would be hard to secure but McCall has certainly proved he has got what it takes to make it on the international circuit.

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