Dave Rennie sets his sights high for first season with Glasgow Warriors

Glasgow Warriors head coach Dave Rennie. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

SOME coaches resort to vague replies when asked to state their goals for the season. Some prefer to evade the question by insisting they are focusing on their team’s performance rather than results. Dave Rennie, by contrast, cuts to the chase.

The new Glasgow Warriors head coach came to Scotland with a reputation for plain speaking, and he further enhanced that reputation at Scotstoun on Tuesday when he was asked what, for him, would constitute a successful first season in the PRO14.

“Winning it,” he replied.

The New Zealander would go on to expand on that remark, but even on its own it was a bald statement of intent which provided an intriguing contrast with a press conference the day before across the country, when Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill was asked if the play-offs were the aim for his team. “We’re a bottom-four team,” he replied. “Why the hell should we think we should be in the playoffs when we’re a bottom four team?”

The blunt realism of Cockerill’s response was at least in part designed as a warning to his players not to get ahead of themselves, and a reminder that they have a long uphill journey to undertake before they can consider themselves as contenders. Rennie’s remark, too, should be seen as a reflection of reality, and that not only says a lot about the contrasting fortunes in recent seasons of Scotland’s two professional sides, it also illustrates the high expectations that the new man has of his players, even though they failed to reach the play-offs last season.

 

Stuart Hogg has returned to training with Glasgow Warriors as he continues his rehab from shoulder surgery.
Image: © Craig Watson
www.craigwatson.co.uk

Winning is not everything, of course, and Rennie explained that he would also focus on other areas, such as squad development. But in the end, he implied, the main reason you develop the squad is to give yourself a better chance of winning.

“It’s a lot about growing the club,” he continued. “Gregor [Townsend] has done a great job and they only struggled last year when they had a lot of international players out. We have a job to build more depth, so we’ve brought in a handful of guys who can’t play for Scotland in that period.

“Gregor played a very positive style, which is what I want. We’re trying to build on that and make subtle changes. It will be a gradual process, but we have good players and a lot of experience.

“We want to play with tempo. If it’s on to play from 90 metres we expect to do that. We have talked of that, but we will play what’s in front of us.

“In the end we have huge aspirations. I don’t want these boys thinking fourth is good enough. You work hard, try to get to the play-offs, and once there you’re two or three weeks from winning a title. It’s a long way off, but we won’t be talking about anything other than winning the title.

“Someone said how do you measure success? That’s how you do it in the end. We want the squad to be better, we want to develop more Scottish internationals and we want to bring some good kids through. But ultimately if we do all that and we finish sixth – you’re not going to call that successful, are you? We’ve got to have high aspirations and we’ve got to work hard to achieve them.”

No-one with any sense would argue against having high aspirations, but the question about the Warriors is surely how much they can bounce back in a single season. After all, they improved stage by stage for a number of years in the PRO12 before eventually winning the title in 2015. And in the last two seasons they have suffered a similarly steady decline, losing in the semi-finals in 2016 then just failing to get into the play-offs at the end of the last campaign.

It might therefore appear more realistic for them to aim to get back into the play-offs at the end of the season before harbouring more realistic hopes of becoming champions in years two or three of the Rennie era. But the coach himself is not concerned about what might appear realistic to outsiders. Buoyed in part by the signing of several players who were not part of that pattern of rise and fall, he will simply expect the best from his side and see where it takes them.

“All I’m saying is that if we don’t have that at the front of our minds, if we don’t believe we can win, we’re going to battle. My attitude is that we have to set the bar high and work bloody hard to achieve that. You’ve got to tick a hell of a lot of boxes along the way.

“Whether it’s realistic or not doesn’t matter. You don’t even have to be the best team in the competition to win it. You just have to be the best team at the end of the comp.

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About Stuart Bathgate 1155 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.