FOUR months into his new job as Glasgow Warriors’ managing director, Al Kellock is convinced that the team’s glory days need not only be in the past.
The former lock is well aware of the side’s illustrious history, of course, having captained them when they were crowned PRO12 champions back in 2015. And he is equally aware of the fact that the Warriors’ budget is dwarfed by some of their potential opponents in the Champions Cup. The quality of the opposition in the new United Rugby Championship is another daunting factor for Kellock to consider as he looks ahead to the coming season, but he is convinced that his own team are well equipped to rise to the challenge, provided they perform at or very close to their best both on and off the field.
“The big thing for me is making sure we have the sort of environment where we get the best out of everybody,” the 40-year-old said. “We’ve talked internally an awful lot about a 90-percent environment, 90-plus environment. We need everybody on field and off field to be operating at that 90 percent plus.
“We’re never going to have the same budget of a Toulon or a Toulouse, but what we do have is the ability to get the best out of ourselves. If you arrive in this environment you’ll get the best out of yourself and we’ll give ourselves a chance of winning things.
“If we get everything else right, we have a great group of coaches and players. I believe the squad is looking very strong and we’ll be competitive in everything that we do.”
However, being competitive is one thing, winning trophies quite another, and Kellock was shrewd enough not to make himself a hostage to fortune by predicting a specific date when the club would win silverware again. “It’s very difficult to give you a timeline on that,” he continued. “But what we can do is put the stepping stones in place to get back there.”
There were times last season, Danny Wilson’s first as head coach, when the team appeared to have taken several steps backwards rather than making any real progress. The worst moment was the loss to Benetton in Treviso in the first round of the Rainbow Cup, a result that raised doubts about the coach’s ability to make progress with the team.
But Kellock backed Wilson then, and does the same now, insisting that the four wins on the spin which followed that defeat in Italy were proof that things are heading in the right direction. “Treviso was a tough place to be for everybody involved. What I saw post that was an incredible turnaround. It was an emotional reaction, but also a performance-based reaction, on and off the field, and Danny led that.
“Going into the game the prep was good, and I think Danny’s come out and said that, and so have Ryan [Wilson] and Fraser [Brown],” he continued, referring to the team’s co-captains. “I think Ryan and Fraser both spoke exceptionally well after that game. The pieces that were missing were the emotional side of the game, which we can’t shy away from, and they got that right in the remaining games.
“I’m fully aware there are going to be bumpy times, both performance and non-performance in the next wee while, and we’ve just got to make sure we’re an incredibly tight group. I all of a sudden saw how tight this group is and the way people pulled together. It’s all very well just battening down the hatches – that doesn’t take you forward. What we did was pull together and make significant strides forward.
“Danny’s had a tough opening season, and I think he’s very much looking forward to getting back to some sort of normality. Now we’re not quite there – there are still challenges as far as Covid is concerned and it’s not going to go away this year. There’s an awful lot more that can be done as far as building that team is concerned, but what we saw at the end of last season shows we’re in a pretty good place.”
The return of supporters should make Scotstoun itself a pretty good place again in the coming campaign, and there is no doubt that at times Glasgow missed having a very vocal crowd behind them during last season’s lockdown. Having begun his rugby career playing for Allan Glen’s in Bishopbriggs, Kellock is acutely aware of the importance the wider rugby community has for the Warriors, and believes that the fans have a significant role to play in the resurgence of the team.
“I believe that when you play for Glasgow Warriors you’re representing the city,” he insisted. “We have to reignite that and bring in new audiences, make people proud of Glasgow Warriors.
“I want people [opposing teams] to not enjoy coming here. We will be the most hospitable team in the league and look after everybody, but we will make this a very difficult place to play at. A big part of that will be because the fans will be back.”