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.
“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.”