Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Has the Rennie-ssance finally clicked?

Dave Rennie
Glasgow Warriors Head Coach Dave Rennie is ready to get stuck in - pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

It may seem strange after last season where Glasgow cantered to the top of Conference A, that fans would be doubting the abilities of Dave Rennie. These doubts surfaced once more after the Kings debacle, but since that day in Port Elizabeth Glasgow have seemed a much more assured, and formidable opponent, which was evident during Saturday’s convincing win away at the Ospreys with a largely second string side.

This has led many Scotstoun faithful (myself included) to speculate that after 15 months in post, the Rennie game plan has finally settled in. Or has the strategy that was so successful with the Chiefs been tweaked to suit the northern hemisphere? Let’s take a look at the evidence and see what’s been going on.

Fewer Offloads
Rennie came to Scotland with a reputation for fast, loose rugby, which after the Gregor years had Glasgow fans dreaming of more of the same. The reality is that the northern hemisphere is not the ideal environment for this type of game. When it clicks, it is beautiful (Exeter). When it fails, it is horrific (Scarlets S/F). Rennie’s men (post Kings) have been much more judicious with the ball, keeping it alive only when it is absolutely on. Jason O’Halloran actually reduced the amount of offloading Scotland were doing during his time there under Vern Cotter and this influence might be coming to bear on Rennie’s approach. This also means more breakdowns, but Glasgow have been comfortable with this due to…

More Ferocity in the Pack
The return of Oli Kebble has been like a new signing, but it is the emergence of Matt Fagerson as Rennie’s first choice at 8 that has provided the biggest impact in the pack. Add to this a much more aggressive approach from Johnny Gray, and a return to form for ‘Snarling Big Bad Bob’ Harley and you have a much more stable platform from which to unleash the weapons in the backfield. Praise perhaps for the much-maligned Jonathan Humphries, but the forwards this season have a feel of ‘back to basics’. They’re going forward, and they’re defending tenaciously.

Adam Hastings
The young playmaker has embraced the ‘Finn 2.0’ role within the Glasgow backline. It’s clear he is still raw but Rennie has handed him the keys and told him to have some fun. This is a hallmark of Rennie’s previous coaching, with young creative players been given free rein to express themselves. What Hastings has done more than any player this season though is breaking the line, which has allowed Glasgow more scope to do what they do best.

Support Lines (of the All Black variety)
Last season, George Horne was praised by all and sundry for his breakout, try-scoring exploits, many of which came from running very intelligent support lines. This season this tactic has been refined, with more players gambling on the line break. Glasgow have this skill in abundance, with Hastings, Nick Grigg, Huw Jones, Alex Dunbar (in new crash up attack mode) as well as George Turner, Fagerson and Calum Gibbins. And let’s not forget one S.W. Hogg is due to return as well. This allows Horne and Price as well as others to be confident in running beyond the play. Whilst no one is suggesting the above names are in the same bracket as the All Blacks, the game plan is the same.

The Verdict
For me, the style of last season has evolved only slightly, with more emphasis on getting the basics right. Glasgow seem to be making better decisions, trying to play only when the time is right. They now feel like a much more comfortable team to watch, and this should make it easier to transition to a ‘Plan B’ now that the weather is turning. There are still some issues, but the hallmark of a good strategist is how you minimise your weaknesses, which this Glasgow side seem to be able to do more easily with each passing week. Rennie’s men are firmly on the path to a second playoff berth under his control and will be hoping that perhaps his men will get the chance to display their learnings at Celtic Park in May.

7 Responses

  1. It’s really great to see things clicking with Glasgow. There’s a lot of potential there, and while last season we only played well in a handful of games, and only one of those against strong opposition, this year has been different, Kings aside. Going to Thomond with a 2nds team (against most of their firsts) and being robbed of a win in the last play is pretty promising. There are far fewer teams to get The Fear about for us now, and one of those few teams beat us thanks to Raynal rather than because they were better. I hope Rennie sticks it out for another couple of years, and think he will because he’ll want some silverware to demonstrate his success. Am I the only one who’d like to see him start his international career with Fiji? Harness their attacking brilliance but have it built on top of solid defence and set piece work.

  2. Great article and mostly spot on i’d say. Not sure it is NH conditions the coaching team has adjusted to though, but skills levels and rugby intelligence. Too often last year it sounded like Rennie’s message wasn’t getting through, as Glasgow failed to play direct as well as wide, and having freedom to try it in from anywhere was interpreted as always try to score from a miracle pass/play every time.

    I hope Rennie sticks it out as Scotland’s players will improve and he’ll have a real shot at winning another trophy. If one of the best coaches in the world leaves without a trophy after 2 years it’ll be a missed opportunity as far as warriors are concerned.

    In the other hand, that argument won’t go far if we lose the next two games to Lyon and limp out of the HC!

  3. Glasgow as a team are not yet equipped to go to the latter stages of the Champions Cup, lacking a critical mass of big-game players. There is an overall lack of experience of playing in the latter stages of play-offs; Glasgow’s inexperience was exposed last season in the semi-final against Scarlets, despite the home advantage. The Pro-12 winning team of 2014-15 were battle-hardened by the near misses of the preceeding seasons. Only 10 of the 23 who were in the team that day are still at Glasgow so there has been a significant loss of the experience of winning at the highest club level. New players have been brought in and it takes time to establish that sense of togetherness found in all the top club teams. The coach too is inexperienced in terms of the style of play in Europe and the requirement to finish off competitions. John’s excellent analysis has convinced me that Rennie has improved the team this season but we’ll only be able to confirm this at the end of the season.

    A more realistic target, rather than European progression, would be to show improvement by getting to the final of the Pro-14, but the odds would have to be against any other Pro-14 team beating a full-strength Leinster.

    1. If Glasgow beat Lyon twice and Cardiff at home, with a couple of BPs they will have an excellent chance of progressing to the HC QFs. That is not a given but realistic. Frankly that should be their expectation but without a home tie Glasgow almost certainly won’t go further. Anything less than a PRO14 final won’t be progression at all. Glasgow have consistently been near the top of the pro12/14 for years and a SF is pretty much par.

  4. Great article. The main difference since the Kings seems to be that the team are starting to run through walls for Rennie. I think last year the team were caught in transition a little and some of the first choices were injured, out of form or had their heads elsewhere in the second half of the season.

    You can see some of the stalwarts like Rob Harley, along with the rest of the pack to be honest, are really stepping it up and in the form of their lives. Young Fagerson looks a genuine talent at 8.

    Also have to say that the defense has improved a bit, tackle completion rate has improved and the penalty count has come down. We also seem to be getting fewer cards this year despite the greater aggression shown by the forwards.

    In the backs the plays have changed a bit. Last weekend the first try was scored out wide off fast turnover ball with some fancy passing. (Old style Glasgow) The second and fourth tries came through the middle from a long way out using really fast acceleration to split the defense combined with great support running. (New Style Glasgow) The likes of Niko, Grigg, and George Horne, are getting up to speed so quickly that if they are up against forwards they can make the break before they can react. Once they’ve made the break the final passes are going to hand. The back row is following them and can recover the ball if it goes wrong. Its more direct and defenses are struggling with it.

  5. I think if Glasgow make the final they would win it. I’m pretty confident it would be a full house and unbelievable atmosphere, home advantage could swing it.

  6. Not to forget that Glasgow lost one of their two who can be considered world class players in Russell and the other one in Hogg has been injured most of the year. Says a lot about the depth to still be sitting top of the conference and basically out playing an almost full strength Munster with a whole host of players missing. Key to the rest of the season for Glasgow is getting Hogg back and keeping the likes of Kebble, brown, gibbins fit and one of the tight heads back asap. Don’t think it can be underestimated how much of an Improvement there has been in the Glasgow pack this season. The likes of Harley and fagerson have really stepped up and Kebble has been a rock in the scrum.

You might also like these:

Gregor Townsend has named a largely experimental squad for the summer tour of the Americas. It's not a question of who misses out, but rather who is actually going, writes Rory.
Iain is joined by Jonny and John to discuss the penultimate round of URC fixtures as well as the recent Scottish Rugby Writers' Awards
Craig is joined by John on the injured reserve list to have a wee look at the URC action from the weekend.
World Rugby has taken steps to ban Dupont's Law amongst three new law changes to be brought in in July.

Scottish Rugby News and Opinion