PACIFIC POWER HOUSE
NZ Rugby World|Issue 207, October - November 2020
FIJI HAVE NEVER QUITE BEEN ABLE TO FULFIL THEIR ENORMOUS POTENTIAL. BUT THEY MIGHT NOW FOLLOWING THE APPOINTMENT OF VERN COTTER AS HEAD COACH.

There can't be any doubt that Scotland's loss is Fiji's gain. Vern Cotter, installed as head coach in 2014 was delivering the sort of results Scotland hadn't seen in decades.

They were climbing the world rankings, unlucky in the extreme not to make the World Cup semi-finals in 2015 and then almost out of nowhere, it was announced in 2017 they wouldn't be extending Cotter's contract.

It was as strange as it was sudden and Cotter, with a 53 per cent win record, found himself unwanted in test football.

To prove how profligate the Scots had been, Cotter had ample club suitors eager to bring him on board, with Montpellier eventually winning his services after agreeing to make him one of the best-paid coaches in the world with a package worth a reported $2 million a year.

He was crazy rich but Cotter had done the French club thing for a long time before shifting to Scotland. He was the man who had turned Clermont into the force they are now after joining them in 2006.

The Montpellier gig had a twist at least as they had a pile of cash, enormous ambition but no pedigree in the French top division. Turning them into serious contenders was a challenge that engaged Cotter, but when the Fijian job became available in early 2020, his hand shot up.

This was the sort of role that Cotter really wanted. Not only would it get him back into test football, but it would also be a fascinating challenge to see what he could do with one of the world's great talent pools.

Cotter had seen and worked with plenty of Fijians in New Zealand and in French club football and the potential was obvious. The opportunity to take Fiji from exciting but erratic to consistent and brilliant was too good to turn down and he signed in February.

“It's a good coaching challenge because you have got to put some work in and everyone has got strong ideas about how we can get this team to play better, be more effective and be more aware of the team they are playing against,” says Cotter.

“They had the third oldest team at the World Cup so there is a generational issue to sort out. I think John McKee [former coach] did a good job and it is a matter of kicking on from there and involving new players as that older generation move on. And then we work to the next World Cup in 2023.”

Fiji hasn't proved to be an easy nut to crack in the professional age. The talent has always been there but no one has yet managed to bring it all together and build a team that consistently wins.

Some of the issues hampering progress are beyond the realms of the players and coaches. Fiji are hindered by a chronic lack of money and quality fixtures.

They have no domestic professional competition and hence their players are scattered all over the world and bringing them together is fraught with difficulties and complications.

These are battles that will continue to be fought, but not so much by Cotter. He'll focus on the parts he can control and it will start with driving a tougher culture and building clear expectations.

“I think we just need to get on the island itself and get some really hard based programmes put down and make it clear what we expect from players,” says Cotter.

“I think we need to make it very clear also about what we expect from players who are overseas in regards to their conditioning. When we analyze the players who are playing in Europe not many of them are playing 80 minutes every weekend.

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