Gregor Townsend faces a whole new challenge as Scotland coach

Glasgow Warriors head coach Gregor Townsend
Gregor Townsend faces a stiff challenge against some very experienced Six Nations coaches

From the moment he turned Glasgow Warriors into Pro 12 winners, Gregor Townsend was always destined to become head coach of Scotland. The only question up for discussion was when, not if.

When? Most people thought later rather than sooner. The feeling for the longest time was that Townsend would seek to develop his coaching abroad before coming home to take the reins of his country.

He would go to England, where he played with distinction with Northampton and where Bath, and others, were rumoured to be interested in bringing him on board.

Or France, where he spent five years of his playing career and where his work at Glasgow is admired by several clubs who are currently, or probably soon will be, looking for a new coach to steer their big ships.

If Townsend has proven one thing throughout his stellar career it's that he's a bit unpredictable.

He has an adventurous spirit, a lust to take on big challenges, no matter how great they appear to be. That was his appeal as a player and it's been part of the reason for his success as a coach.

Townsend is staying put, though. In June next year he will take over from Vern Cotter as Scotland head coach. The fear of losing Townsend to England or France seems to have brought this to a head.

The SRU could not allow their one marquee Scottish coach - the man who orchestrated Scotland's only trophy in professional club rugby - to leave the country.

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Scottish Rugby chief on Gregor Townsend

Avoiding the 'nightmare scenario'

They couldn't leave themselves open to a poach from a suitor. The aesthetic of that would have been horrific. You could employ a battalion of heavyweight PR people and none of them would be capable of dressing up a Townsend exit as anything other than a nightmarish scenario.

So Townsend stays and Cotter goes once his contract expires next June. With Cotter still coveted in French club rugby - while also tipped for a job in New Zealand - it's an endgame that suits all parties.

Cotter has one more autumn international series and one more Six Nations. Those games will determine Scotland's seedings for the World Cup in Japan in 2019.

The Cotter evaluation can wait a while. His legacy will largely be determined by the games to come and the search for the victories that will bank Scotland a place in the top eight in that World Cup draw. Otherwise, Townsend will be the one who'll be forced to live with the repercussions in Japan rather than Cotter.

Townsend will be 44 when he gets the job and still shy of his 45th birthday by the time the 2018 Six Nations comes around. That's young - younger than any other coach of any other major rugby nation in the world.

Vern Cotter
Cotter was appointed head coach in May 2013 but Scotland had to wait until the following year before he arrived from Clermont Auvergne

Where danger lurks...

He's going to be entering shark-infested waters in the Six Nations. The amount of coaching experience he's going to come up against will be extraordinary.

Cotter is wise to the ways of the world given all his years at the highest level in France, but his successor is a relative rookie with only one head coach role - and one trophy - under his belt.

Presuming all the current coaches are still in place come the 2018 Six Nations - a big if, perhaps - Townsend will go up against Joe Schmidt when the Scots travel to Dublin.

Schmidt has won a French championship with Clermont as an assistant coach, two Heineken Cups, a European Challenge Cup and a Pro 12 as head coach of Leinster and two Six Nations titles with Ireland.

He is generally acknowledged as the greatest national coach Ireland has ever had.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt
Schmidt has won two Six Nations titles with Ireland

When France come to Edinburgh, that's Townsend versus Guy Noves. The Frenchman has won nine championships in his homeland and four Heineken Cups as coach of Toulouse during one of the greatest club dynasties the sport has ever known.

Scotland will travel to Wales, where Townsend will go up against Warren Gatland. The Kiwi has won three English Premierships, a Heineken Cup and a European Challenge Cup with Wasps, three Six Nations titles with Wales (including two Grand Slams) and was head coach of the successful 2013 Lions in Australia.

The Calcutta Cup will take place at Murrayfield. Eddie Jones, the England coach, has won a Super 12 title with the Brumbies, a Tri-Nations as head coach of Australia, who he also took to the World Cup final in 2003. He was assistant coach with South Africa when they won the World Cup in 2007 and won a club league in Japan, as well as plotting the greatest upset in rugby history when his Brave Blossoms beat the Springboks in the 2015 World Cup in England.

In his new job as head coach at Twickenham, Jones has won a Grand Slam and followed it up with a 3-0 summer Test series win in Australia.

For Scotland, there's also a trip to Italy that year.

The ultimate challenge

Some young coaches would not just be daunted but intimidated by the wily operators in the opposing coaches box, but Townsend is the type of character who will embrace it.

He's young and inexperienced and he'll be pitting his wits against some seriously impressive characters with some seriously heavy-duty weaponry at their disposal, but Townsend's work at Glasgow means he warrants this job.

It's not just one step up for him, it's many steps up. This is the real deal now. It's a brutal world he'll be entering next summer, but it's not his way to shy away from difficulty. Few thought of him capable of making champions of Glasgow - and he did it brilliantly.

Yes, this is a challenge of an altogether different magnitude, but those who doubted him then may not be so quick to doubt him now.

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