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.
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.
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.
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.