Amid the wind and rain of Galway last Friday, Dave Rennie’s fingerprints were beginning to show on his Glasgow Warriors side. He had only arrived three or so weeks previously, but as they battled the inclement conditions, they scored two wonderful tries in their Guinness PRO14 opener.
The first was straight off a scrum and from the training paddock, as Ali Price, Peter Horne and Adam Hastings swapped passes to put Price over. The second saw Price chip over Connacht’s advancing line to put in Leonardo Sarto who offloaded from the turf to stick over Lee Jones. Two tries wonderfully executed, in a match where they had less possession and territory than their opposition but won 18-12.
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Dave Rennie got one over on his former Chiefs assistant Kieran Keane as Glasgow Warriors outgunned Connacht for a 18-12 PRO14 win at the Sportsground.
Both scores adhered to his coaching philosophy — play what’s in front of you with a deeper understanding for the game, move the ball with pace, and focus on that transition from defence into attack. But as Rennie embarks on this new chapter having finished his six-year spell at the Chiefs, his coaching philosophy will only become more evident over the coming weeks and months.
“I want us to play a brand of footy that’s attractive and that requires us to be incredibly fit, explosive, powerful and with a high skill set,” Rennie tells ESPN. “It’s similar to what they played already so our job is to take that to another level.
“They’ve worked really hard, got themselves in good condition but you still need to play a type of game that suits the players we’ve got. We want our big men to carry and be highly skilled so you need to put [in] time with that part of the game.
“We also want to be brutal. We play a lot of conditions here where it’s cold and wet and you need to alter that style of game you play. The plan will be able to play a multitude of styles that suit the conditions and who we’re playing.”
Rennie himself says he is only just getting started, levelling the praise for their promising start and preseason work at his coaching staff’s feet — they are the chaps he talks of as ‘good blokes’ — but a talk with the man regarded as one of the world’s premier rugby brains gives you an insight into seeing the game differently.
He arrives at the Warriors with a huge reputation. We’re not shy of a few hugely successful New Zealand coaches in this part of the world, but Rennie’s star shines with the brightest following his five-year spell at the Chiefs, complete with two Super Rugby titles.
Defeat to the Crusaders in the Super Rugby semifinals was to be his final game at the Chiefs, but he left behind a remarkable legacy. They reached the playoffs in each of his six years at the helm — the only Super Rugby franchise to do that — and took the championship in 2012 and 2013. He improved their attack and defence, and they returned a positive points differential each season. They went from winning fewer than half of their conference games, to claiming victory in just over two-thirds. Potential was realised.
Ali Price of Glasgow Warriors celebrates with teammate Peter Horne after scoring against Connacht. Matt Browne/Sportsfile via Getty Images
But praise for Rennie comes from elsewhere, the man himself deflects it. He himself puts plenty of acclaim at Wayne Smith’s door. “He’s fantastic and the best coach in the world. It was a privilege to coach with him for three years,” Rennie says, referring to Smith’s spell at the Chiefs from 2012 to 2014.
It was during that two-title spell that they garnered a reputation for bringing a Moneyball-esque approach to their play, emerging victorious despite having had the least possession in Super Rugby. They saw things differently.
“What we did well was the ability to turn pressure into points,” Rennie says. “So from a defensive point of view, if we defended really well and we got a turnover, we were pretty clinical around that.
“The ball’s kicked to you as many times in a game as you have scrums, lineouts and kick-offs put together so there are plans around counter [-attack], which have been effective for us. This year we had the least amount of possession in the comp but ironically we had 70-odd percent possession in the semifinal we lost so the stats don’t always marry up to what’s happening.”
And so to Glasgow, where Rennie now finds himself. “I was keen to coach in a tough competition for a start, so that ruled out a couple of options. When I started talking to Scottish Rugby and Glasgow, it was clear they were aspirational and prepared to be innovative and so on.”
Rennie has watched Glasgow from afar, and his predecessor Gregor Townsend spent a couple of weeks with Rennie’s Chiefs back in 2012. He has also noted how defensive coaching and systems in the Northern Hemisphere have been a step ahead of their counterparts below the equator alongside line speed, which he feels has changed the way teams in the south attack.
“I thought if I was leaving New Zealand then this was the best place to come to.”
“Everyone’s constantly looking up here, we don’t think we have all the answers down there [in the Southern Hemisphere],” Rennie insists.
His early focus at Glasgow has been to recruit players who will be available when his Scotland contingent are away. He saw how last season they lost all three of their games during the autumn international window, and won just one of four during the Six Nations. To combat that, 13 players were signed in the off-season and there is an emphasis on giving youth a chance. After their win over Connacht he emphasised how many of those who played in Galway would be free throughout the season.
Rennie also places an emphasis on building a family-oriented environment, and sometimes picks a more unfashionable player on account of their character — being a “good bugger” as he puts it. Off the field he is looking forward to seeing more of the Northern Hemisphere with his wife after they had their children young, and enhancing his own coaching wisdom.
But as he inherits a team who know what it takes to win a PRO title, having done so in 2015, he is looking to take them to the next level. “From a Glasgow point of view I want us to have a confidence that if it’s on, we launch from anywhere if 95 out, it’s sometimes easier than five out,” he says. Glasgow fans would have seen the early stages against Connacht, but as Rennie’s influence starts to build at the Warriors, expect to see more of his fingerprints on everything they do.
“I’m really excited. I signed 12 months ago so there have been a lot of meetings, conferences, planning and I’m fortunate enough to have some outstanding coaches and trainers who have been delivering all this stuff while I’ve been over at the Chiefs. I’ve got some ideas around how I want us to play and how we’ll do things culturally.
“The boys are in good knick, the attitude’s been great so it’s good stuff from my point of view. It’s impressed me, the quality of the footy played has been strong. I thought if I was leaving New Zealand then this was the best place to come to.”
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