Cotter to develop different Montpellier philosophy
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Montpellier have long been a much-maligned side in the Top 14, derided for their South African-heavy, forward-based gameplan under former Springbok coach Jake White.
White has exited the Mediterranean stage, the reins of Mohed Altrad's club now passed to New Zealander Vern Cotter, formerly of Clermont and Scotland.
Cotter's task will be to rebuild interest in a city team that increasingly failed to capture local imagination, with home attendances having progressively fallen under White's reign, which was notorious for the number of South African players signed.
That is not to say White was a failure, Montpellier having bagged the European Challenge Cup in 2016 and the club finishing third in last season's Top 14 before falling in the play-off semifinals.
Cotter, however, has vowed to instigate what he said could be described as "different philosophy".
"We're starting something that may be different philosophically," said the Kiwi, who will be assisted this season by Australian-born former Scotland lock Nathan Hines and former England playmaker Alex King, the latter having also played under Cotter at Clermont.
"We'll define amongst ourselves the identity of our gameplan and we'll develop that with our leaders. There are players with character in this squad because rugby always starts with character."
One thing Cotter acknowledged that the club would have to address would be to make rugby attractive once more, albeit adding a rejoiner that winning was crucial.
"We'd like people who don't know what to do on a Saturday afternoon to say to themselves, 'You know what, Montpellier are playing, let's go and enjoy that'," he said.
"I want players to enjoy themselves when they play, it's our role as coaches.
"But the first thing is winning. We're capable with this team of playing, of being strong in contact but playing. That's what we'll try to do - there are no guarantees in this sport, but we'll try."
With pre-season under way, Cotter said ball skills would be paramount as he moulds his team ready for the resumption of Top 14 duties on August 26.
"Little by little we'll try to build what we need to play at a high level," said the understated Cotter whose eight years at Clermont saw them win the 2010 Top 14 after being beaten finalists on three consecutive occasions, claim the 2007 Challenge Cup but lose the European Cup to Toulon in 2013.
Three players Cotter will count among his cadres will be barnstorming France No.8 Louis Picamoles, returning to the club of his youth, All Black fly.half Aaron Cruden, and Springbok scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar, a World Cup winner in 2007 under White, who has just signed a three-year contract with the club.
Pienaar will link up with fellow World Cup winners Francois Steyn and the Du Plessis brothers, Bismarck and Jannie, with five other South Africans on the roster.