AWARDING the PRO14 title to Leinster is the fairest and safest way of wrapping up the current PRO14 season, Glasgow coach Dave Rennie believes. The Warriors boss, who leaves in June to take over as Australia’s head coach, is convinced that crowning the Irish province champions would be better for player welfare and the integrity of the competition than allowing the campaign to drag on into late summer or autumn.
Glasgow were in a play-off position in Conference A, third behind Leinster and Ulster, when the coronavirus crisis forced a suspension of play. But while calling the season now would deny his team the chance to reach the final for the second year running, Rennie thinks there are compelling reasons for doing so.
“It is difficult with time frames,” he said earlier today [Tuesday] in a conference call with media. “We’re not going to be playing rugby in June. It complicates issues. There are players and members of the coaching staff who won’t be there beyond that point.
“At the moment there are a lot of people dying in this part of the world. Others have lost their jobs. The whole world is taking pay cuts. The importance of us getting back playing quickly does not really rank very highly.
“Whatever decision is made, it must have some integrity involved in the thinking, because to try and push the finals back till August or something like that and playing with whoever is left – I’m not sure that would do the league justice.
“We’ve seen other competitions just awarding the team that’s leading. You can’t argue that Leinster, unbeaten all year, miles in front of the competition . . . . It’s hard not just to award them the competition, isn’t it?”
Asked to confirm that was his preferred solution, Rennie added: “Yup. Yup.”
With 13 wins from 13 games, Leinster are 20 points clear of Ulster, who have a game in hand, in Conference A. Edinburgh are two points ahead of Munster in Conference B, and have lost three of their games so far. A one-off final between the two conference leaders has been mooted as one way to have a decisive end to the season, while heading straight to play-offs with the teams currently in the top three is another option.
However, Rennie believes that any attempt to resume this season after what is already a lengthy hiatus could risk having a detrimental longer-term impact on player welfare – a consideration which he feels should override any desire on the Warriors’ part to have a tilt at the title. “I think all these decisions have got to be made around player welfare and what’s best for the state of the country,” continued the coach, whose team lost last season’s final at Celtic Park to Leinster.
“I guess what we really want is some clarity from PRO14 as to what the future looks like, what’s their plan, because at the moment players are in limbo a bit. They’re still training hard in the hope that maybe we’ll come back and play some footy. I just worry about the effect that will have into next season if they continue to train and then eventually we get a date and they come back and they try and finish this season and then go straight into next season.
“Obviously there’s some financial issues and they’ll be looking at ways to make some money. Just want to make sure that they’re not trying to flog the players and you end up with a 13- or 14-month season. From a player-welfare point of view that wouldn’t be ideal.”
If no further rugby is played this season, Rennie will look back on it as a time of some progress, but also of a missed opportunity in Europe. “I think this year in Europe, to miss out on the play-offs was really disappointing, because we played a lot of good footy in Europe. To beat La Rochelle away from home, beat Sale both times . . . The 31-31 draw against Exeter at home hurt us, because we should have won that. But the loss to La Rochelle at home was the nail in the coffin in the end. So it’s frustrating.”
All Glasgow’s players are on furlough at present, but remain in the country with the exception of Fijian forwards Leone Nakarawa and Mesu Dolokoto. “Mesu and Leone pretty much got the last plane out of Scotland when it was clear that things were shutting down and we weren’t going to come back in a hurry. Their partners and kids are back in Fiji, so instead of being locked in isolation on their own for months here we thought it important to get them home. We’re still in touch with those guys to make sure they’re training and so on.”
Rennie declined to say whether there had been conversations with Nakarawa about extending his contract with the club beyond the end of the season, and also refused to say if Sean Maitland would return to Scotstoun from Saracens in time for next season, arguing that such matters were now the province of incoming head coach Danny Wilson. He also made it clear he would honour his agreement to take over as Wallabies head coach despite the turmoil that has enveloped the Australian governing body and culminated last week in the resignation of chief executive Raelene Castle.
“I’m really gutted at the decision to move Raelene on. She’s a big part of the reason I signed with Australia. I was really impressed by her. I’m really disappointed, but she exited with real dignity and class.
“I’m disappointed with the decision, but clearly I want a chat with the board and get clarity over what the plan looks like now. I’m still very committed, and we’ve been doing a lot of work in and around preparation for when the new season comes around.”