THE pacesetters in Conference A of the Guinness PRO14 this season began to run out of steam several weeks ago but had built up a big enough lead over of the chasing pack to still stumble into the play-offs as top seeds.
That gave them three weeks off to recover and re-energise before a final push for glory, but it was too-little-too-late to fundamentally alter the trajectory of their season, and the wheels well and truly came off the Glasgow Warriors bandwagon in their eagerly anticipated but ultimately one-sided Guinness PRO14 play-off semi-final clash against the Scarlets at Scotstoun on Friday night.
It is very easy to get hysterical in these sorts of situations, but Dave Rennie is not the type of personality to have his feathers ruffled by the fact that he did not hit the jackpot during his first year in the job.
“Ultimately, I’m disappointed not to be playing [in the PRO14 Grand Final against Leinster] next week. We always said it would be a pass mark if we could get into the semis, and then it was about being the best team on the park for two weeks and getting a title. We fell short of that,” the typically level-headed New Zealander reflected after Friday night’s 13-28 defeat to the team which won this competition last year and have already reached the semi-final of the Champions Cup this season.
Asked for his school report card on the season, Rennie chuckled half-heatedly. “Must do better,” the former teacher replied.
A much needed four-week break
The Warriors now get to start their summer holidays a week earlier than they had hoped, and when Rennie explains why he is giving his players an uninterrupted month off it becomes a bit easier to contextualise their recent form. The team have looked jaded, because they are jaded. It is the end of a marathon season in which they have had to dig deep to battle through a heavy injury toll and an extensive international burden.
“The big thing is we’ve been going for 50 weeks. Last year Glasgow didn’t make the play-offs, so they’d finished by the end of April and got a big chunk of May off and they were back in on June 1st, ” explained Rennie.
“The boys need to mentally freshen up, and physically get away. But they’ll be tested when they get back with the expectation that they are in bloody good nick, so we can build on things, But it’s important they get away, clear the head and get excited about next season.
“A number of our big boys [including Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Jonny Gray and Ryan Wilson] aren’t touring with Scotland and they’ll get a decent off-season programme which will be massive for them,” he continued. “We’ve got a few new recruits and a few good kids who have come through and will be better for it.
“They’ve often [in previous seasons] had a week off then come straight back in and tried to marry things up with school holidays, but we need to draw a line in the sand. They’ll get a month off but there will be expectations around what they’ve to do from a training perspective to come back in good nick.
“I think we’ve grown in lots of areas. From a leadership point of view, we’ve made a lot of developments and we’ve brought a lot of good young kids through. Obviously, when you’ve got the international windows, you’re missing heaps, and with the injuries we had, a lot of those young fellas played a lot of footy. They’ll be better for it next year. Looking at our squad for next year, I think we’ve got more depth.”
Reinforcements on the way
Intriguingly, he also revealed that we are still to hear about a number of new faces who will be added to the squad for next season, although how many are established pros and how many are academy graduates remains to be seen.
“We’ve done most of our recruitment, but we haven’t announced many of those yet. It’s not massive. We’ve got maybe eight or nine who are leaving, and we’ve probably replaced about seven of those guys. A couple of them you already know about [DTH van der Merweand George Turner], but the rest are still to be announced,” said the coach, before stating that a stand-off to challenge Pete Horne and Hastings for the number ten jersey during the post-Finn Russell era is not a priority at this stage.
“We’ve also got Brandon Thomson in the squad and Ruaridh Jackson who potentially might play a bit of ten for Scotland while he’s away,” Rennie explained.
Bolstering the pack, however, is a different matter.
“Absolutely. The big thing is around being able to create some go-forward,” he said. “The scrum was reasonably good against Scarlets, we got penalised once but the scrums negated each other in the end. We’ve got some young men there who are going to be better for that. We’ve got a couple of options to come back in. Hopefully that will give us a little bit more go-forward and a little bit more edge.”
“I think we’re pretty clear in what we’re trying to do, but we need to be more dynamic through the middle, get a bit of balance – understand that we’ve gone through the middle, we’ve grouped them and now it’s on to move the ball away from there.”