GLASGOW WARRIORS will almost certainly have a new head coach next year after it emerged that current boss Dave Rennie will be moving to Australia to take over the Wallabies, or possibly to New Zealand to replace Steve Hansen, or even – a little improbably, you have to think – to Italy since they too were after the Kiwi according to rumours.
Rennie is a man in demand, which stems mostly from his work south of the Equator rather than in the badlands of Scotstoun in Glasgow. He won the Super Rugby title with the Chiefs at the first time of asking, the first to do so, and again in his second season 2013. That was six years ago and that was the last time Rennie won anything. He stayed with the Chiefs until 2017 when he moved to Scotland to take over from the newly promoted Gregor Townsend at Glasgow.
He is said to be popular with the players and he seems like a decent bloke to share a beer with in a bar – but where it matters most, on the pitch, Rennie has rather underwhelmed.
In his debut season, the Warriors swept all before them in the regular league campaign playing an attacking brand of rugby that could be termed Toony+ and they qualified for the play-offs weeks before the event. But come the semi-final against the Scarlets, it was Rennie that was left looking red-faced as his team no-showed.
The Scarlets thumped Glasgow at Scotstoun 13-28 and they did so without the inspirational John Barclay, who injured himself early on in proceedings. Glasgow’s defence was atrocious, not for the first or for the last time, as Scarlets cut loose.
The Kiwi had already raised eyebrows when dropping Finn Russell for his first inter-city derby against Edinburgh, played for the 1872 Cup. It is, in case anyone still doesn’t know, the oldest derby outside of internationals in the world, and the Kiwi wasn’t aware that dropping his star playmaker, replaced by Peter Horne, was only going to fuel Richard Cockerill’s pre-match call to arms! “C’mon fellas, they are fielding their second string ffs!”
Despite being reduced to 14 men after Simon Berghan had seen red for a boot to Fraser Brown’s head, Edinburgh clung on for a famous win in front of 23,000 fans.
In fact, Rennie has won just two of the six derbies that he has played, which tells a story in itself; his team beat the stragglers but almost always come up short in the big games against big opposition.
That was certainly true of last season’s ignominious end to Glasgow’s European campaign when, after doing well to qualify, they hit the buffers in spectacular style at Saracens’ Allianz Park. The score ended 56-27 in favour of the home side although that doesn’t really do justice to Glasgow’s complete inability to compete in any phase of the game whatsoever. Two Glasgow tries in the final quarter gave the scoreboard a veneer of respectability that their performance did not deserve.
Rennie’s selection policy again come under scrutiny, because he picked the relatively young and inexperienced Stafford McDowall out of position, asking the habitual No 12 to shift one wider to the all-important 13 channel. Outside centre is the most difficult channel to defend. McDowall was targeted, isolated and turned inside out by Saracens’ dummy runners who stood him up before the ball was whipped wide just as the poor Scot had put down roots.
To be clear, McDowall did not lose that game by himself. Glasgow could have fielded Manu Tuilagi himself in the 13 shirt and still lost by a landslide, but the youngster’s selection out of position looked like a serious error in judgement after the event.
In fairness to Rennie, his team did go one better in the PRO14, getting to the final where they lost to Leinster. That is no disgrace but if you can’t beat Leinster at Celtic Park in front of 47,000+ (mostly) Glasgow fans then you probably never will … at least not when it matters.
And all of the above could have been forgiven if Rennie hadn’t taken two of Scotland’s best midfielders and crushed the confidence out of them.
Alex Dunbar and Huw Jones are decent rugby players, better than decent, they are good players and the evidence is there for anyone who has witnessed them in a Scotland shirt over the years, but at Glasgow they have been marginalised, ignored and eventually exiled. Dunbar is off to Brive and it seems only a matter of time before Jones follows him out the door. It wasn’t Townsend’s decision not to pick Dunbar for the RWC2019 training squad, he couldn’t select a player who had hardly played any rugby and that was Rennie’s decision.
Despite losing all those numbers to Townsend’s World Cup squad, Jones was still stuck on the Glasgow bench when they lost tamely to the Dragons, the worst of the Welsh regions, last weekend, although he did enter the game late and claim a try, which happened to be Glasgow’s only points of the match. It was another ‘no-show’ for Rennie’s under-performing side.
It may be that being a Kiwi, Rennie expects to whistle up any number of willing centre substitutes from the club game, as a Super Rugby coach might do, but this is Scotland and we don’t have that depth of talent. We have to take the material we have and make the most out of it, not something the Kiwi can claim.
These things are never black and white. Despite Glasgow’s dreadful results this season – one win in four outings and 13 tries conceded – Rennie remains popular. He has done some good things with the club, but surely not nearly enough for the Warriors faithful to mourn his passing for more than a moment before hoping that his eventual replacement can make a more substantial and lasting impression on the club.