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THE BREAKDOWN, STEVE SCOTT: Pete Horne’s fast-track involvement with Scotland illustrates a need for more Scottish coaches

Pete Horne played seven of his 45 Scotland caps with younger brother George.
Pete Horne played seven of his 45 Scotland caps with younger brother George.

I haven’t seen Pete Horne prowl the touchline at training with Scotland yet, but I’m betting that there’s going to be a clipboard involved.

Pete, barely a year into his coaching career at 33, has been called into the Scotland camp to assist Gregor Townsend. Brad Mooar, the former All Blacks and Scarlets coach, is also coming in on a consultancy basis.

Horne always looked like a future coach during his distinguished career. It began, of course, with Howe of Fife minis and went all the way up through Schools and Youth Cup triumphs to titles with Glasgow and 45 caps for Scotland.

He was always a canny and thoughtful player. His try against Australia in the World Cup quarter-final in 2015 was typical Pete – smart. heads-up rugby.

A clear coaching pathway

And of course there’s a lineage in coaching, from his Dad Garry.

That’s where the clipboard comes in. In his long career as head coach of the Howe, turning a generation from Cupar into quality players – including both his sons – Horne senior was always on the touchline scribbling something on a clipboard.

Barely had he retired from playing, it seems, than Pete became skills coach with Glasgow. The brief with Scotland is similar, it seems, with particular attention around the contact area.

It’s the same route that Mike Blair, now head coach of Edinburgh, took once his playing days ended. He went to Glasgow and then Scotland before succeeding Richard Cockerill.

The imminent and likely departure of Townsend after the World Cup has illustrated once again that we’re short of natives who might realistically aspire to the top job.

Blair has not yet completed two seasons at Edinburgh. John Dalziel, currently the international forwards coach, is the only other real Scottish candidate for the post if or when Gregor moves on in October.

Expanding the talent pool should be a priority. I don’t know what Greig Laidlaw’s plans are once he completes his current sojourn in Japan, but if he’s of a mind they’d be well advised to get him on board.

A succession of good judges – Vern Cotter for one – thought Greeg would be a great coach one day.

Spreading the load

In the meantime, it had been thought that Townsend might just take the attack brief himself after AB Zondagh decamped early to France.

Gregor said last week that he has heavy involvement in the attack plan, specifically in the `starter plays’. Zondagh, who had come in from Toulouse in 2021, had responsibility for much of the rest, especially turnover attack.

But Gregor added that him taking on the entire attack plan would be spinning a plate or two too many.

That to me is an excellent sign that he’s willing to delegate and spread the load. For my money Scotland have always been better in his time when there were plenty of voices chipping in.

Mooar was a coach with the great Crusaders teams in New Zealand, as well as the All Blacks themselves for two years.

He was the sacrificial lamb after the ABs’ losses to France and Ireland last year, but he clearly has a vast knowledge that will offer much to Scotland.

At least they’re trying to do something

It seems the RFU’s well-meaning but poorly directed plan to reduce tackling height is going to be walked back.

English rugby’s governing body last week announced plans to outlaw tackling above the waist at all levels below Premiership and Championship rugby, to reduce the risk of head injuries.

The reaction was swift, and at times, completely hysterical. We had some proclaiming the very death of rugby.

The social media outcry seems to indicate the proposed trial will be stopped in its tracks.

On balance, that’s probably right. The issues with contact in rugby are at the elite level, not in the community game.

At least the RFU have tried to do something. We still hear plenty voices suggesting that ‘more research is needed’.

One advocating delay this week has been Saracens head coach Mark McCall. However, he’s not exactly the most compelling contributor given recent examples from his own squad.

First we had Sarries and England’s Owen Farrell banned for a dangerous high hit and forced to go to ‘tackle school’ prior to the Six Nations.

Then on Sunday two Saracens’ players were yellow-carded against Edinburgh for going in high. “Poor tackle choices”, according to McCall.

One, England hooker Jamie George, was taken off, allowed to return after HIA assessments, only to be removed after doctors re-assessed the incident at half-time.

All protocols and processes were correctly followed, said McCall. No doubt, but any process that allowed George back on the pitch is clearly flawed. That much is obvious to anyone who saw him wobble so alarmingly after the hit.

Technique is the key – so coach it

Andy Farrell, the current Ireland head coach, chipped in at the beginning of the week. Tackle technique was the key, he said.

“It’s super important that what has to come with any changes is the correct coaching, the correct technique,” he said.

Absolutely. So we need prominent coaches like McCall and Farrell to be actually coaching that technique.

I see little evidence of this anywhere as players continue to target the ball and go in high – not through instinct, but clearly by design.

It is true that lower tackle height doesn’t eliminate head injuries – not for the tackler, anyway. But the clear and large majority of them at the elite level come from high hits. Nearly 70%, according to World Rugby’s studies.

Do we actually try to address that? Or do we just do nothing but ‘more research’?