IF it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s the approach being adopted by Glasgow Warriors head coach Dave Rennie as he looks to steer his team to the Guinness PRO14 title by defeating Leinster in the competition Grand Final at Celtic Park this coming Saturday.
Warriors booked their place in the last two with an emphatic 50-20 win over Ulster in last Friday night’s semi-final, and although they have had their ups and downs this season, the evidence of their last four outings is that they have hit their stride at just the right time if they hope to claim a second league title to go with the one they lifted back in 2015.
But they face a huge challenge against a true European super-power. Leinster have won the PRO14 [and precursors] a total of five times, which is more than any other team; and they have lifted the Heineken Champions Cup [and precursors] a total of four times, which is equal most along with Toulouse.
They won the double last year, but fell at the final hurdle in the Champions Cup against Saracens a fortnight ago, meaning that this match is their only chance of claiming any silverware this season. Leo Cullen‘s men withstood a ferocious first half onslaught from Munster in their semi-final on Saturday, before stretching away to a fairly comfortable 24-9 win, which served notice that any sort of hangover from the Saracens set-back has not lingered.
“We’ll keep things just the same as what we’ve been doing up until this point,” explained Rennie, when asked what the week ahead in training has in store. “So, we’re not going to over-train. It’s just a case of being clear and doing what we need to do.
“A lot of it is about intensity. We’ve already had a good clarity session and we’ll have another one later in the week.
“We also need to make sure we have a bit of fun, because that’s really important in a week like this. We’re excited. At this stage of the season, a lot of people get a bit nervous and play within themselves. They maybe play conservatively as a result of that. But what’s got us here is the brand of footie we play.
“I was really pleased with our attitude against Ulster because we really went out and expressed ourselves. We want to do the same in the final.”
Room for improvement
While Rennie was impressed with the approach of his team at the weekend, he also believes that there is room for improvement.
“We can still be a lot better than we were against Ulster. The score-line obviously looked good, but Ulster are a lot better than that. They were probably a couple of cogs off where they would normally be – not too dissimilar to what happened with us against Saracens in Europe a few weeks ago. If you’re a couple of cogs off, then you can get belted. That’s the way the game is.
“We’ll be better for the hit-out because we hadn’t played in three weeks. I still think we can be better defensively, although we did actually defend well for big chunks.
“In attack, I thought we were pretty clinical. But I still believe we can generate quicker ball. We’re always striving to be better – and we know we’ll have to be against Leinster.”
After failing to really grasp the opportunity when they lost 34-12 to Leinster in their first ever Grand Final appearance in 2014, Warriors made sure they were not caught cold again the following year with a classic, free-flowing performance against Munster which secured 13-31 success.
“I haven’t watched it recently, but I have seen that game and it’ll probably be a similar mindset [on Saturday] as it was back then,” said Rennie. “You had Leone Nakarawa throwing offloads all over the place that day and creating mayhem.”
Making new history
One of Glasgow’s recent successes during their impressive run-in to the end of this season was a 24-39 win over Leinster in Dublin in mid-April, which will bolster self-belief going into this weekend, but Rennie and his team know that the Irish giants are a very different proposition when they are firing on all cylinders with a bit of silverware up for grabs.
“Both sides were missing a few players that day for various reasons, so they’ll have a number of guys back in the team and we’ll also have a different look to us,” he pointed out.
“What pleased us in the game over there was the fact that we were behind on the scoreboard, but still managed to claw our way back and win with three tries in the last 20-odd minutes.
“It’s not easy to win over in Leinster. We know they’ll be stronger, but so will we be. Realistically that game counts for very little. The semi-final also counts for little. It’s all about the final now.”
“We’re well aware of the strength of Leinster. They’ve been a powerhouse in Europe over the past few years. They’re a good side who are generally tough to beat. They’re notorious for hanging onto the ball multi-phase, so you can’t turn over the pill against them or kick poorly. And they’ll defend well, as we saw against Munster on Saturday. I’m sure they’ll be highly motivated. They’re very aspirational and they’ve missed out on one trophy, so I’m sure they’ll be determined to grab the other one.
“But we’re in a good place right now. We’re playing well and we have a clear understanding of what we’re trying to do. We’re excited by the challenge.”
Clean bill of health
Rennie added that there are no fresh injury concerns after the weekend, while wingers Lee Jones and Niko Matawalu have come back into contention.
“We’ve got eight days [between the semi-final and the final] and that eighth day is crucial, to be honest,” he said. “The boys have shown up today and with the extra day they’re in really good nick. As I’ve mentioned, we’re not going to over-train, so Monday’s normally about review, recovery and clarity, and we’ve got through all that. Tomorrow we’ll bring intensity and we’ve got a couple of guys we have to manage who’ve got bumps and bruises, but it won’t stop them from playing. We’re in a good spot.
“As coaches we met yesterday [Sunday] morning for a few hours, talked about a lot of key things and selection was one of them. There’s a lot of guys put their hands up at the weekend and it’ll be difficult not to include them again, but we’ve got another group who trained really well and played a big part in our season, so we’ve got some good problems.”