Dave Rennie busy fine-tuning Glasgow powerhouse
Ex-Waikato Chiefs head coach has overseen a marked improvement in Scottish club
Leo Cullen with Glasgow head coach Dave Rennie at Celtic Park, Glasgow. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Glasgow Warriors have reached the knock-out stages in seven of the last eight years and, the champions in 2015, they will be contesting their third final today. Hence, as much as Leinster have become a powerhouse in the Guinness Pro14, the same can also be said of the Scottish region.
From little acorns and all that. Having been semi-finalists and quarter-finalists in the first two years of what was then the Celtic Cup, in the ensuing eight seasons they didn’t reach the semi-finals once, and had an averaging finishing position of eighth.
All began to change when the competition was expanded to become the Pro12 in the 2011-12 season, when Glasgow reached the semi-finals in Sean Lineen’s last of six seasons as head coach, before Gregor Townsend transformed the Warriors into annual contenders, and exciting, expansive ones at that.
Under Dave Rennie their strength in depth has become even deeper, and he’s added a steelier edge in the last two seasons, but the former Waikato Chiefs head coach attributes their rise to “a lot of work from a lot of people”.
“Obviously I knew Gregor pretty well before I came in. He did a great job here, clearly, and we’ve just tried to build on that. I think we’ve got better depth now, having brought in some really good personnel who have made a big difference. But I think every side in the competition is better now.
“Leinster compared to what they were three or four years ago are much stronger. The competition gets tougher every year, I reckon. But it’s been over a long time here, Sean Lineen’s time before Gregor – they were making play-offs at the end of his tenure. Maybe we’ve raised expectations over that period of time.”
“I think we’ve played a pretty positive brand of footie, too,” he added, going on to make an interesting observation in light of them accruing a tournament record of 15 attacking bonus points before their seven-try filleting of Ulster in last week’s semi-final.
“So, if we play against the weaker sides, we can tend to put them away. Whereas maybe sides who are a bit conservative might end up in an arm wrestle – and lose a couple of those. I’m sure there are a hundred things. But mindset is a big part of it.”
Rennie likes to talk of Glasgow’s “brutality”, and they’ve also learned how to win arm-wrestles, their current nine-game winning run having been kick-started by a 9-3 home win over the Ospreys.
“It’s something we’ve been striving for all year. We’ve talked about not wanting to be an east-west side. So you’ve got to have a decent enough pack for a start, good at lineout at scrum.
“Our maul is as good as anyone’s in the competition. We’ve probably scored more tries than most in the past ten weeks. We try to have an edge about us, be prepared to go through the middle of teams and shake their defence. That means that, when we do go to space, we haven’t got a wall in front of us.
“It’s taken us a while to maybe get to grips with that game. We did it in patches last year but have done it much better this year.”
None of this is a surprise to Leo Cullen who spent time watching and observing the Chiefs when Rennie was their head coach before taking over the reins at Leinster.
“I couldn’t speak highly enough of Dave and how he allowed me in to their set-up, and he allowed me access to everything really. It was an amazing experience for me.
“I learned a huge amount. So I’ve so much respect for him. He had me around to his house for dinner, and I’ve tried to stay in contact since. I learned a huge amount about the way they played. I watched a lot of the Chiefs games at the time, and they won back-to-back Super Rugby titles in that period.
“Wayne Smith was coaching there as well, and Tom Coventry, so they had a huge amount of experience and just even the model that was set up and how they went about things in the background, it’s something that I took a lot from.”
Reflecting on the Warriors’ 39-24 win at the RDS five weeks ago and the patience they showed in building pressure on Ulster last week, Cullen added: “They’ve been very, very efficient this year in comparison to what they’ve been before; yeah, threats across the board, and very aggressive around the contact area. Again, that’s a very Dave Rennie-team trait.”