Frank Hadden was a fan of Sean Lamont long before the bottle-blond wing provided a bolt from the blue in scoring both Scotland's tries in the brilliant victory over France, one of them from a crushing rolling maul that threatened to trundle down Princes Street.
"I have known him since he was this high," Hadden said, his hand hovering a couple of feet above the carpet of the president's suite at Murray-field. "He's my sister-in- law's nephew."
The tenuous bloodline does not leave Hadden open to a charge of nepotism. He was powerless to prevent Lamont slipping south of the border from Glasgow to join North-ampton. "It would be better for us if he was playing in Scotland," the coach said, "but we couldn't afford it, it's as simple as that." The same goes for the captain, Jason White, who plays for Sale. "The bonus there is that Jason is with the best side in England." And it does no harm to have a fifth columnist or two on your side.
The notion of Fortress Scotland was the dream of the Australian Matt Williams, who in two years in charge won just one match at Murrayfield and three out of 17 in total. In 10 months Hadden has won four out of six, and it was the sterling performance against Les Bleus last weekend that has given Scottish rugby a makeover the like of which has not been seen since Clark Kent popped into a telephone kiosk.
Should Scotland triumph again this afternoon, against Wales in Cardiff, the temptation to think of Hadden doing a Mike Ruddock will become irresistible. After the Welsh employed a quietly spoken Welshman to coach the team, the result last season was a glorious Grand Slam. The Scots have belatedly turned to one of their own, and the players are responding. Both countries struggled like mad with professionalism and went through forms of civil war before the bloodletting was stemmed.
Todd Blackadder, the impres-sive New Zealander attached to Edinburgh, has worked with both Williams and Hadden, and for one season was the former's assistant with the national team. "I liked Matt and we didn't have a huge argument or anything, but we couldn't agree on the best way forward," Blackadder said. "He wanted to build the national team first instead of looking at the clubs and putting faith in the coaches of the professional teams. It was a drain on resources and had a huge knock-on effect. In Scotland, everyone has to work together."
Blackadder spent four years working alongside Hadden at Edinburgh, as player and coach. "Frank has a liberal style and he's not into 10-man rugby. If the players are enjoying it they'll give 100 per cent, as you saw against France. There's no reason why that should be a one-off."
Hadden, a former school-teacher, has 10 of his Edinburgh Gunners in the squad of 22. "I'm used to working with these boys day in, day out, but last season the scenario was the most frustrating thing I've ever experienced," he said. "They'd be away with the national squad for a few days, come back knackered and then get beaten in the Celtic League on a Friday night.
"We haven't got the greatest resources in the world and this system didn't work for anybody. It had to change."
Almost everything changed except, funnily enough, the squad. The men responsible for appointing Williams - Bill Watson, the chief executive, Jim Telfer, the director of rugby, and Ian McGeechan, the technical director - have all left.
"Frank has been a breath of fresh air," Scott Murray, the lock, said. "He knows how to get the best out of the players. If the previous coaches had stayed I would not still be here. Everything was structured and it just didn't suit us. We like running around, keeping the ball alive and keeping teams guessing. Now we're being allowed to express ourselves it's worked wonders. You see the difference in training. If we're asked to turn up at half past we'll be there at quarter past."
While Scotland, who hadn't scored a try in four years against the French, displayed almost flawless handling, their opponents spilt possession at will. While Hadden spoke of "blood and guts" and "playing for your mortgage", Bernard Laporte appeared dumbstruck. In last season's championship, Wales blew Scotland off Murrayfield before half-time. "That was a massive low," Murray said. "It always hurts when you lose, but that was particularly painful. Now we've got to take another step up, because after what happened to them against England, Wales will come at us with everything."
One of Hadden's biggest gambles has been to persevere with the stand-off Dan Parks, an Australian whose grandfather came from Kilbirnie in Ayrshire. In last autumn's defeat by the All Blacks, Parks was taken off in the second half and was not treated kindly by the crowd. Last Sunday it was a different story.
"Everybody had a smile on their face," Parks said. "Frank has given me a lot of confidence. If I think that something is on he'll back me. He's got behind us and he's a very positive guy."
Simon Taylor, the No 8 in a big-hitting back row, is a negative guy. "I'm not going to talk about overnight transformations," he said. "I'm a pessimist and a cynic, and there's a long tournament ahead." Taylor has been with Hadden for seven years, since the coach was in charge of Scotland Under-19s. "Frank's brought a different approach and it's worked so far. "He doesn't baffle us with technicalities. He's growing into the role; I'm really pleased for him. We've all had to put up with such a lot of crap."
Over to Lamont. "Frank talks to you, not at you. It is such a different atmosphere. You can drown players in too much information. Matt wanted meetings before every training session and two every evening. We had meetings to go over what happened in the previous meeting or to discuss what we would do at the next meeting."
Hadden, who is paying his first visit to the Millennium Stadium, has taken Lamont under his wing not just because he is a distant relative. "I really like him because he is big, he is strong and he runs fast." No confusion there.Reuse content