DAVID BARNES in TOKYO
THIS World Cup is being played in the land of the rising sun, but the reality is that it won’t be long until the tournament is disappearing into the dusk, with our focus soon turning towards France 2023 – such is the relentless nature of professional sport where the next big challenge is usually just the blink of an eye away.
We talk a lot about World Cup cycles in terms of the form and fitness of players and teams, but in the background the churn is even more inexorable. For example, Scotland team manager Gav Scott has been working towards this tournament for the last four years – and there is not much scope for taking it easy then peaking at the right time because the key to success in his job is to have the best possible options in place as soon as possible in order to avoid serious disappointment.
“We had a delegation meet us from Nagasaki at Royal Grammar School in Newcastle when we were training there during the 2015 World Cup, so that’s how far back the early planning went for the pre-camp to this tournament,” he explains. “And we’ve been dealing with questions around the France World Cup already, little things around organisation and how we might like things to run in four and a half years’ time. In fairness, you do get about a year when it’s not too much and then three years out it starts to build up again.”
It is Scott’s job to make sure that every off-field consideration has been taken care of so that Gregor Townsend and his team can focus on preparing for the matches without any unwanted distractions. With around 20 management and support staff, 31 players, a World Cup liaison and four tonnes of kit involved, it is a significant logistical undertaking.
And in Japan, it has been a different sort of a challenge compared to some of the traditional rugby strongholds the team has toured in recent years. However, rather than being problematic, Scott sees this as a bonus because it means no stone has been left unturned.
“There are countries who have a reputation for being a bit last minute but here it’s completely the opposite,” he explains. “We were asked what time we want lanes in a swimming pool booked about two and a half years in advance, and you have to explain that we’re not really going to know that until pretty close to the tournament. But it speaks to the level of organisation that people want put in to get it right on your behalf.
“Sometimes we’ll need to change plans because of something that happened in a game, so that flexibility is critical for a sports team, and when there are 50 of you moving about that can be a difficult thing.
“But we’ve been coming to visit Japan since 2015, ahead of the 2016 tour, and what we’ve seen is this real will to accept people into their country and desire for things to be right for the people who come. They want you to understand their culture and to like it, but they also want to learn a little about you and your culture. It’s been a great learning thing for all of us.”
Scott was a useful player in his day. He played hooker for Caledonia Reds and Glasgow Warriors during the early days of professionalism, represented Scotland A and was on the periphery of the national team without getting capped.
“That helps initially,” he says when asked if his playing pedigree has helped him in his current role. “Prior to this, I was in a different role as a match analyst for the national team, so both those things help. It means you understand the internal culture and working of the team. It helps you to embed yourself and understand what the priorities are for different groups and what you need to concentrate on and what is less important.
“But beyond that, this job is something you can learn. There are other team managers in world rugby, a lot of them friends of mine, who didn’t play rugby or played very little but are great team managers.
“I’m not sure if anything stood out that meant I would be good at it,” he adds. “But I’ve certainly enjoyed the journey of doing it. I’ve been manager for seven years and I’ve learnt a lot in that time, dealing with the pressures that coaches are under and attempting to make life as easy as it can possibly be so they can just do the best job they can with the players.
“They all coach in different ways and they want slightly different things in terms of the environment and culture they’re in. But they all still want the best for their team – to get the best team on the park and to prepare the best way they can. My role is to make sure they can do that in a calm and controlled manner.”