Dan McFarland’s decision to leave Scotland’s international management team is a blow to Gregor Townsend, but perhaps not a surprise.
The forwards coach has a lot of admirers in the game, and the performance of Scotland’s pack in his time in the job has only increased the number. Despite an injury crisis in the front row for almost the entirety of his tenure in the job, the Scots have held their own operating even with relative novices in key positions.
Scotland’s mauling, in defence and attack, has also improved immeasurably under the former Connacht prop. One could argue that it was the maul that effectively saved Scotland’s Six Nations season in Rome, where it was the primary method used to overhaul Italy in the final quarter.
Head coach of Ulster is one of Europe’s top club jobs; a well resourced, historic and loyally supported club that is properly representative of the province. Off-field issues led to no less a prominence than Brian O’Driscoll describe the club as “a basket case” in recent weeks, and McFarland will have carte blanche to reset the club’s image and direction.
For Scotland, it seems a little odd to insist on McFarland serving out his nine months’ notice; a quiet departure after the summer tour would serve the purpose of having interim replacement Carl Hogg getting his feet under the table. But McFarland’s staying until January, not an ideal scenario for the Scots as much as it is for Ulster.
Hogg was exiting Worcester at the end of this season having kept the Warriors in the Aviva Premiership. He is a long-time friend of Townsend and certainly on the head coach’s wavelength.
But such a significant change in personnel is far from ideal when it seemed Scotland were steadily preparing and improving for the World Cup. A seamless transition is a must.