WHEN Dave Rennie officially signs off as head coach of Glasgow Warriors on Sunday night, he will do so feeling both pride at what he and his team have achieved in the last three years, and frustration that they couldn’t quite get over the line in the big matches that really mattered.
Asked what his best and worst moments have been, he didn’t take long to think it over. “They were probably the same day – the [PRO14] final last year,” he replied.
“It was a huge disappointment because we had played such good footy for a couple of months and were really on top of our game – the amount of effort that went in, not just by the 23 who got stripped, but the full squad, was as good as I’ve seen – but it was obviously disappointing not to get it right on the day and not come away with any silverware.
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“We just weren’t as accurate as you need to be in a big game like that. Leinster chased the life out of us and they were really good at hanging onto the ball. We didn’t play a lot of rugby that day, and obviously they came in with that intention. The conditions probably suited them.
“It was an amazing atmosphere. It probably wasn’t the greatest spectacle. They are a good side and they have played in a lot of big finals and their experience showed on that day. We had a couple of opportunities in that first half where we could have put them under more pressure on the scoreboard, but we didn’t take them and against good sides you have to do that. Lesson learnt, I guess.”
Advice for the future
As he takes his leave, Rennie says he is generally positive about the state of Scottish professional rugby, but he does have some departing advice to the Scottish Rugby Union which he believes will help the nation to continue punching above its weight, calling for the creation of ‘A’ teams for fringe pro players and academy prospects.
“I honestly believe that there are some really good players over here, some really good kids coming through, and I think Edinburgh and Glasgow are preparing these guys pretty well for the step up to international footy,” he said. “But we [Scotland] have to keep working hard to identify and develop players. There has been talk around altering the Academy system a bit, and I like what Leinster do around their ‘A’side and the competition they play in.”
During the last two years, development teams from the four Irish provinces and the four Welsh regions have played against each other in the Celtic Cup at the start of each season, but Scotland chose to sit that new competition out and concentrate instead on developing the part-time professional Super6 league which now sits below the pro tier.
“For a big chunk of the year, you play without internationals, so the other guys get an opportunity, but there are times in the year when you have 50 guys to choose from, and it would be great to have really meaningful games for those guys,” said Rennie.
“They don’t have to play every week because when international players are unavailable clubs are depleted, so it is when everyone is at full strength there is a chance to play ‘A’ games. It means that your next tier is playing, and some of your academy players are coming up and playing against really tough opposition, learning lots. I think that would be a real positive.”
When the Super6 concept was first unveiled almost three years ago, the idea was that pro players would not be involved because they would be playing ‘A’ games for Edinburgh and Glasgow, but it didn’t work out like that and so we did have fringe pro players being released down to the new tier during the recently cancelled inaugural campaign.
While Rennie tended to be far more disposed to using this route to get players game time than Richard Cockerill, his counterpart at Edinburgh, he is clearly frustrated by the ad hoc nature of the arrangement.
“We were often trying to find games for some guys and Super 6 was a real battle this year, with the rules that were there,” he says. “I think the issue is that Super6 had X amount of players contracted and they can’t go anywhere else – they can’t go down to play for a lower team within their club – so we were passing players down and they already had a full squad.
“It’s not an easy situation. Even if it was only 10 more ‘A’ games, that would give the next guys down an opportunity to impress and improve and put pressure on you as selectors. It’s a great chance to grow other coaches, trainers, medics and so on.
“I realise that comes with a cost. But if you are asking me how we accelerate the development of the next tier, I reckon that would be a good start.”
Ready for the next challenge
Rennie plans to head back to his native New Zealand early next month, where he will go into quarantine – “locked in a hotel for a couple of weeks” – then spend a couple of weeks with his family, before heading for Australia to take over as Wallabies head coach.
It is a time of significant upheaval in Australian rugby, but Rennie says he is confident that he can navigate his way clear of the politics to focus purely on his job of getting a successful team on the park – despite his clear disgust at the way Raelene Castle, the former Chief Executive, has been treated.
“She was a big part of the reason I signed,” he said. “I really respect her. A good lady who really cares about her people, and if you talk to her staff, they would rave about her. So, it was disappointing that people had a crack at her in the media who really have no idea of what is going on.
“For two years she had media having a crack at her and various other high-profile people having a crack at her – just bullying her, really – but she was really strong, she kept fighting and refused to take a backward step, so I really respected that steel she had.
“She went out with a massive bit of dignity. Even back when I was first being signed, she never had a negative word to say about Michael Cheika, even though there were lots of reports about their relationship, so I just think she is a real classy woman. I would love to have worked with her but it is not going to happen now.”
Turning his focus to the specifics of his job, Rennie added: “We have been doing a lot or planning which has been difficult because there had been a lack of clarity over when we start [playing again], but it [the lay-off] has given us time to connect in really well now with all the state sides, the coaches, the trainers and so on and so on.
“There has been a change of CEO and Chairman of the Board, so I’ve been spending a bit of time with those guys and they are good men – really proactive and I reckon they will make some change – but all that stuff we are trying to deal with in-house rather than talking about issues in the press.”
John Jeffrey steps out of the shadows at pivotal moment for Scottish rugby
This is all the SRU’s fault.
Too many blazers with their snouts in the trough.
What about grassroots rugby!? Will somebody at the SRU please think about the bloody minis rugby.
Great comments guys.
What is obvious and has been for some time is the absence of systems thinking inside Murrayfield.
Scottish Rugby is an interdependent system. And IMO rather fragile.
As you shift one lever it impacts on all the others. Eg remove 220 players from Prem rugby and there is an effect. Clubs stop providing mini rugby then no internationals in 20 years time. Remember the 1980s teachers strike.
Having 60 or so S6 players twiddling their fingers of a Saturday isn’t the fault of the club game. Remember we were told in no uncertain terms that “pros won’t play against amateurs”. Fine said the clubs. Now you come weeping that you can’t get the semi pros game time and want to inject them back into the club game!
A bit more collaboration and collegial activity would go a long way rather than saying it’s my ball and we are off
Astute comment is always worth noting.
The concept of Pro A squads seemed so logical that it begs the question as to why we sought to seek an alternative? Suspect ‘some’ merely wanted it their way or not at all, deeming another internal domestic competition is somehow better than travelling further afield and seeking out fresh opposition & their challenges.
There is another more recent aspect to this debate which is often expressed by the habitual mantra by some groups on social media, the demand for signings by our Pro teams. Given we’re in the midst of a global pandemic with little or no immediate idea of how society let alone sport will interact such expectations may go unsatisfied. Talk about “cutting off your nose, too spite your face.”
The benefits of A teams & Academy player pools are many & varied.
Interesting perspective from Dave Rennie on the need for professional ‘A’ teams to act as development squads for the two Pro teams. ‘A’ teams were of course part of the original Agenda 3 / Super 6 proposal but this was then binned with no explanation at the time as to why (although we all know why) and just as the Welsh and Irish were establishing a PRO14 ‘A’ League. Any objective observer could see that it was something we should be pursuing. It was sheer arrogance that we weren’t involved and another management failure. Meanwhile we’re also making substantial investments into Stade Nicois and later Old Glory DC during this period and for what benefit or return to Scottish Rugby? The charge sheet is long and the lack of trust in this regime is beyond the point of it being recoverable. This current crisis has to be seized upon as an opportunity for sweeping changes and a restoring of trust and respect in the Board of Scottish Rugby Union Ltd. It’s the only way we can hope to move forward “as one”.
You make good points regarding wasted investment especially in light of Dave Rennie’s evaluation of the opportunity to observe developing players it would seem to be a waste of money to invest in other countries Rugby Clubs. However I can understand the attraction of Stade Nicois, so close to all those excellent and discreet institutes in Monte Carlo, ideal for high flying wealthy executives [and the beaches of course] but Old Glory is a bit of a mystery.