DAVE RENNIE’S last words as Glasgow Warriors’ head coach have been directed towards those who fear that the club will never be able to consistently challenge against the top teams in Europe due to too many star names being lured away by big money deals in France and England.
There is anxiety that during Rennie’s three years at the helm, the team’s fortunes have plateaued. They lost heavily to Scarlets at the semi-final stage of the PRO14 play-offs and ended up bottom of their Champions Cup pool in his first year, then reached the final of the PRO14 before losing to Leinster and were beaten by Saracens in the quarter-finals of Europe in his second year, and they were third in their PRO14 conference and were once again knocked out of Europe at the end of the pool stage when lockdown hit the current campaign.
Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg have been the most notable departures during this period, while Jonny Gray heads off to Exeter Chiefs this summer. This would leave a big hole in any rugby squad, but Rennie insists that it is possible for Warriors to become more competitive despite this through a combination of developing fresh homegrown talent and some sharp-shooting in the recruitment market.
“I think we’ve now got a pack that can compete, and that’s crucial in Europe,” he stated. “You’ve got to be able to scrummage, because the big teams scrum penalties. They put you in a corner, they maul and so on, and they’re good at hiding the ball, so you’ve got to have a good set-piece. And then you have to have the ability to hurt teams when you get your opportunities.
“I think there’s certainly enough X factor in our group, but there’s a lot of steel now, too. We’ve got to keep building on that and keep developing good young kids.”
“It will [also] need some investment, with other players coming in,” he continued. “Players like Callum Gibbins, for example, who had a massive positive influence on this group. Just very, very professional, a high-quality player, great example to our young men and an excellent role model.
Rennie highlighted Adam Hastings, Scott Cummings and Zander Fagerson as three home-grown players who can provide the backbone of the Glasgow team as they look to kick-on under Danny Wilson.
“I think Adam’s going to be an excellent international player,” he said. “He’s young and he’s still a little green but he’s really competitive and fit, and is really working hard on developing his skills. He’s got a great work ethic. It takes time and ideally a lot of these guys, if they’re not learning at the international level, they’re established by the time they get there.
“And maybe Scott Cummings becomes the new Johnny Gray. I think Scott has the potential to be a phenomenal international player. He’s a real point of difference with the second-rows over here, he’s a great athlete, and deceptively quick. He’s really developed an edge to his play around the physicality. He’s a very smart man, very good line-out caller, very composed.
“Scotty’s far from the finished article but he’s got a massive upside and we’ve seen his emergence at the World Cup and afterwards, and that’s exciting from a Glasgow and Scottish perspective.
“Someone like Zander Fagerson would be on the radar for a big club somewhere in the near future. He’s a phenomenal player. He’s only young but his scrummaging has come a long way, he’s got a big engine, a massive work-rate and his brutality is first-rate around the contact area.
“He’s got a really good skill set and I think he’s just going to get better and better. Maybe he’s the next challenge to try and keep in Glasgow and Scotland.”
George Horne, Kyle Steyn, Matt Fagerson, Tom Gordon, Stafford McDowall and Bruce Flockhart were also name-checked by Rennie, and he had praise for one of the players at the other end of the age spectrum as well.
“One of the guys who’s impressed me massively here has been Rob Harley,” he said. “I reckon he’s a better athlete now than he was three years ago, he’s put a lot of emphasis on his agility and speed, he’s worked really hard on his skill set, and that’s the reason Rob plays every week.”
It all sounds very positive, but the lack of activity on the recruitment front so far this year is a cause for concern. As well as Gray, several other senior players have moved on or hung up the boots, including Gibbins, Tim Swinson, Ruaridh Jackson and DTH van Der Merwe.
Rennie indicated that there will be some good news emerging from Scotstoun on that front once Wilson gets his feet under the desk tomorrow [Monday] morning.
“I guess with this Covid-19 situation they’ve not been in a position to make any announcements, but a lot of work has been going into recruitment and retention, and Danny and the other coaches have been meeting over the last couple of months to ensure that there’s a strong squad going forward,” he said. “I know there’s some announcements to come but I’m not in a position to say what that is.”