Jim Telfer on Scotland's 'best team since 1999', Vern Cotter, Eddie Jones, the Lions
|Six Nations 2017|
|Dates: 4 Feb-18 March Coverage: BBC TV, Radio and online|
June marks the 20th anniversary of the most spine-tingling rugby speech that's ever been caught on camera - the soaring 'This is your Everest, boys' address by Jim Telfer to his pack of forwards before the first Lions Test against South Africa in Cape Town in 1997.
Twenty years. Gone, just like that. Telfer was in his 50s then and he's pushing 77 now. Time has flown but the man hasn't changed, not his passion for rugby at any rate, not the hours he spends watching it and thinking about it, no matter where it's happening or at what level.
Three hours in the Scotsman's living room throws up all sorts of discussion. Vern Cotter? He's a big fan of the Scotland coach. Twickenham? Less so. "An intimidating concrete jungle." Eddie Jones, England, the Lions, the future of the game? He's got plenty to say, put it that way.
The Six Nations is almost upon us. Scotland have not won a championship since Telfer was coach - and that was in a different millennium. In the 17 years since his side won the Five Nations, the Scots have finished bottom four times and second from bottom seven times. In the past decade they have won 20% of their matches in the Six Nations.
Telfer sees some light in the tunnel. He's seen it before, it's true, and it's turned out to be an oncoming train. Will it be different this time?
- 'I've loved it' - How Scotland melted Cotter's 'eyes of ice'
- Cotter backs 10 Scots for Lions tour
- Scotland depth 'best in years' - Toolis
'Vern is a hard man. I'm disappointed he's leaving'
Those who have been around a while will tell you about the similarities between Telfer and Cotter as coaches - intense, driven, relentlessly striving to be better.
Telfer is an admirer of the New Zealander. He says he's brought clarity where before things were clouded, he's inherited decent players and he's made them better, he's brought in new ones and has created a steelier culture.
"I think he's done a remarkable job," says Telfer. "He's got a clear message. The players know exactly what they're supposed to be doing individually and collectively.
"The New Zealanders talk about producing good rugby players but also about producing good men. That's what he's doing.
"He's a journey back to the old type of coach, a hard man who understands the Scottish philosophy. Scotsmen will run through brick walls for you if you treat them properly and if they're the right type. He would find the Scottish players' attitude refreshing. When I heard he was leaving, I was disappointed."
Telfer talks about Cotter's developing culture, the emergence of Jonny Gray, the improvement in Richie Gray - "Richie was just wandering about for five or six years" - and the development of Scotland's attack.
|Factfile: Jim Telfer|
|After making his name as a back row with Melrose, he made his Scotland debut in 1964||Earned 25 caps for his country, most of which as captain|
|Only Scotland international to have played New Zealand, South Africa and Australia without losing||Selected for two Lions tours - 1966 (Australia & New Zealand) and 1968 (South Africa)|
|Played eight Tests for the Lions||Was Lions head coach on the 1983 tour to New Zealand|
|Coached Scotland to a first Grand Slam for 59 years in 1984||Alongside Ian McGeechan, coached Scotland to another Grand Slam in 1990|
|Teamed up with McGeechan again to lead the Lions to a series victory in South Africa in 1997||As head coach he led Scotland to the title in the final Five Nations in 1999|
The loss, through injury, of WP Nel could be a major blow, he says. Scotland have precious little depth in the front row now. He used to think Nel was "just another South African who failed to make the grade" but he has come to admire him as a player.
"In the modern game you have to have a very good set-piece and you need a strong tight-head who can be the cornerstone of the pack and we haven't had that in Scotland for a few years, so that's a big blow," remarks Telfer. Zander Fagerson, it has to be said, has been excellent for Glasgow of late.
He's concerned also that Scotland's leadership hasn't fully matured. He says: "There's still a bit to go. We play Ireland first. Finn Russell up against Jonny Sexton, a superb player, so in control. Finn has got all the bits and pieces to be a very good player but sometimes he doesn't control a game as I think he should. He needs three or four more years."
'Ireland, France, Wales - we can beat two of them'
As an analyst and lover of New Zealand rugby since the 1960s, Telfer can give you chapter and verse on Ireland's victory over the All Blacks in Chicago in November.
"Ireland will be very close to being favourites to win the title," he says.
"They're used to winning and pose a great threat. They don't make mistakes. They can control the ball and they've enough match-winners who can take the game by the scruff of the neck. They've got great depth as well. Scrum-half Conor Murray is excellent, a great general.
"If I was down to my last fiver I'd back my own country. Heart over head, possibly.
"France are getting better and they have a coach now who understands what rugby is about. If we're at our best in France we could win, but it depends how France come back after playing England. If they're battered and bruised and the crowd get at them, they'll have to play well in Paris to keep their season going. I hope the resurgence in France is just a little bit premature. If we win one of the opening two we'd be doing well."
Scotland host Wales in the third round of games. They haven't beaten them in nine years. Like many games in the Six Nations there is a Lions sub-text. If there's going to be a semi-respectable contingent of Scots on the Lions tour then games like this have to be won.
"The way things are looking, Ireland and England have players that will be automatic. In the past there was a core of Welsh players that were automatic, but it's not so obvious this time.
"Some of their best players - Leigh Halfpenny, Jamie Roberts, Sam Warburton - are dropping down even in the Welsh pecking order. We have to win that game. And it's very winnable."
'Eddie Jones? Like Trump, he wants to be the big man'
If Scotland's record against Wales is lamentable, their history at Twickenham is a horror story. They haven't won there since 1983. As if that wasn't grim enough, they also lost that epic World Cup quarter-final against Australia there. To Scots, this is rugby's biggest graveyard, protected by all manner of ghosts.
"Eddie Jones doesn't want to beat teams, he wants to demolish them, which I find a bit disappointing," says Telfer. "To me, he's building his whole team on set-piece and the building of the attack comes secondary. Having coached Australia and Japan you would have thought the opposite would be the case. The way he speaks, it's a bit like Donald Trump. He wants to be the big man, you know?
"His goal is to win the World Cup in 2019 and so far it's gone well, but I think he could be a little more circumspect, show a bit more respect for the opposition. He doesn't seem to show much respect and it could come back to bite him.
|Scotland's Six Nations fixtures, all times GMT|
|Saturday, 4 February: Scotland v Ireland (14:25)|
|Sunday, 12 February: France v Scotland (15:00)|
|Saturday, 25 February: Scotland v Wales (14:25)|
|Saturday, 11 March: England v Scotland (16:00)|
|Saturday, 18 March: Scotland v Italy (12:30)|
"Twickenham, I find intimidating, the whole atmosphere is intimidating, there's so many of them, three tiers of them. If you ever think about wanting separation from England just sit 10 minutes in Twickenham and listen to them.
"They think they're superior and a lot of them will come from the south-east, bags of money and bags of this and bags of that. They don't really appreciate the other team. In France they just boo the other team, in Argentina they boo the other team, in England it's just disdain. 'Why are we playing these plebs?' I don't like Twickenham; a concrete jungle, nothing attractive about it at all."
Can anybody beat England? He thinks France will give them a rattle and that Ireland could topple them in Dublin on the final weekend.
"We've been talking about having three wins for years, but it's possible. I think this is the best Scottish squad since 1999. I've a feeling Vern is going to get some reward for the work they've done."
'The All Blacks are beatable - the Lions can do it'
Telfer tells me his Lions Test team. With a laugh, he adds they can win in New Zealand - "as long as they pick the team I've chosen".
"If we can match the All Blacks up front, in contact and set-piece, we have the quality behind [the scrum] to win the series," he says.
"I don't think New Zealand rugby is nearly as strong as the rest of world thinks. They're definitely going back. If we've ever had a chance of beating them, it's this time."
There are caveats. Fitness of the players after a long season, a crazy match schedule, two Tests at Eden Park in Auckland, where New Zealand's record is incredible, and he's unconvinced about Gatland's coaching back-up. He says Gregor Townsend was right to turn them down in favour of touring with Scotland but would like to have seen Cotter deployed as forwards coach.
How many Scots? "If we get five or six we'd be doing well. Jonny Gray will definitely go, WP Nel would have gone - and still might go - Tommy Seymour, Stuart Hogg. If Duncan Taylor plays well in the Six Nations he might make it. But we won't get players because we've beaten Italy in the last game. We need big wins."
You know he'll be watching, Every minute, every hour, day or night. Same as it ever was.