Glasgow Warriors are becoming a force to fear again under Dave Rennie

Lee Jones in action for Glasgow against Munster in late 2017. Image: David Gibson.

IT may be unwise to read too much into a single result, but on Friday night it was tempting, very tempting, to conclude that the glory days are on their way back to Scotstoun.

Glasgow Warriors have not exactly had a terrible couple of seasons since winning the PRO12 title in 2015, having reached the play-offs the following year and made it into the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup for the first time last year. But the general impression, perhaps inevitably given their irresistible rise through the ranks to become champions, has been one of gentle, relative decline.

Not any more. Now, after four games played and four victories in the bag, there is a sense of renewed optimism in the air. The Warriors had been lucky to leave Cardiff with the win last weekend, but there was nothing fortunate about Friday night’s astonishing triumph over Munster. Instead, they owed the 37-10 victory to their own magnificent play, and to the astute tutelage of their new head coach, Dave Rennie.

The only time recently that there has been anything like such a big win in the games between these two sides was in Europe last year, the day after Munster coach Anthony Foley’s funeral. The Irishmen won 38-17 that day, in emotional circumstances that surely few players on either side can have experienced before. The other games between the teams over the past couple of years had all been close affairs, decided by one or two or three points, with Munster invariably being the ones to end up on the winning side thanks to their enviable ability to put a stranglehold on proceedings.

It was all the more remarkable, then, that on Friday, as part of just another round of fixtures in Conference A of the PRO14, Glasgow should win so commandingly. More noteworthy still was the fact that they did it, as they have achieved their other victories so far this season, without leading players such as Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray, both of whom are still making their way back to full fitness.

That is an indication of one of Rennie’s virtues: his ability to make such good use of his squad, and to inspire players often seen as journeymen to greater heights, that the absence of two key internationals has hardly been noticed. Hogg and Gray will be welcomed back with open arms, of course, but for the time being Ruaridh Jackson at full-back and Scott Cummings at lock are proving to be more than able deputies.

The other aspect of the coach’s work that really impressed on Friday was his implementation of the game plan that was needed to beat Munster. Other coaches down the years have no doubt identified what their team needed to do – prevent Munster from slowing the game down to the point where they can dictate it – but implementation and identification are two distinct things. Rennie came up with the plan, and, on Scotstoun’s swift synthetic surface, he ensured that his players carried it out to the letter.

“We knew the game was going to be brutal,” the New Zealander said. “They’re a tough side – if you’re not disciplined they put you in a corner and they try and strangle you. They’ve got an excellent kicking game.

“So we felt that if we could deal with the kicking game, we had opportunities to counter, which is a big part of our game. I’m really happy with the attitude – I thought we fronted really well defensively, and we took opportunities.

“Obviously we wanted to play at pace, take them out of their comfort zone. They’re a type of club that is used to dictating things, and they can just grind you out of the game. We were sharp enough tonight to take advantage of a quick drop-out, quick lineouts, and just play at a tempo that obviously stressed them a little bit. Scott Cummings’ try was a great example of that.”

The forward’s score was the fourth try of the night, following efforts by Leonardo Sarto, Lee Jones and Nick Griggs, and was a merited reward for a fine performance. Still only 20, Cummings is already an extremely impressive athlete, and clearly has the potential to keep on improving for some time to come.

“I think he’s an outstanding prospect,” Rennie continued. “He’s a hell of an athlete. He scored a try for us pre-season from about 50 yards: he’s quick. He runs great lines, he’s got a great pair of hands.

“He’s a young man. He’s developing his physicality and he’s still got shifts to make there, but I think he’s potentially pretty special, hence the reason he’s played a lot of footy for us so far.”   

Cummings himself credited Rennie in part for his score, which came late in the game after he was able to keep up with and support winger Sarto. “That’s something Dave has said from the start, that one of the differences between northern- and southern-hemisphere rugby is the front five’s ability to play with the ball,” the second-row said. “We’ve done a lot more work in the front five on handling, our speed in the game, to make sure we have 15 players on the pitch who can all handle, all ball-carry, run support lines. Two or three of the tries against Munster had forwards showing good hands to be involved.

“Over the previous three weeks, we felt we hadn’t actually performed yet. Munster came over here three from three and with a great away record, but we knew that if we could match them physically, our speed would hopefully prevail.

“We’re getting to the stage where we’re finally clicking, whereas in the previous couple of games we hadn’t quite got there. We’re certainly gelling as an attacking team now.

“We knew Munster would come here to have an up-front battle and if you don’t match them, they’ll walk all over you. We knew we definitely had to step up in that area if we were to have a successful game.”

They stepped up, all right, and they went to the top of the Conference table as a result. These are still early days, of course, but all the signs are that, after losing their aura over the last couple of campaigns, the Warriors are once again becoming a fighting force to be reckoned with.

About Stuart Bathgate 1407 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.