Glasgow Warriors: 'A season that promised much but delivered nothing'
In the days leading up to Glasgow's dismal exit from the Pro14 on Friday, there was much talk about the Scotstoun Factor and their perfect record there this season in the competition. 10 games, 10 wins, heaps of bonus points, buckets of tries. A fortress, if you wanted to believe the hype.
It's true that Glasgow won a lot of games at home this season. It's also true that the way the early-season fixtures panned out facilitated them hugely.
Dave Rennie made that exact point five or six games into the run. The head coach said he'd find out more about his team when the competition got more serious and the opposition started to bring out their biggest beasts.
Rennie knew that beating up the Southern Kings and the Ospreys and Cardiff Blues and Benetton was all very well, but it was a world away from taking on the elite when pressure was on.
Glasgow put Leinster and Munster away at Scotstoun with fine performances, but it was early season. It's the team that has the momentum in the final few months, not the first few months, that you want to watch out for.
After their exit to the Scarlets, there was a feeling that Glasgow had lost their way in the second half of the season, a belief that having secured a home semi-final with many weeks to spare, that their competitive edge went missing thereafter.
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The alternative analysis would have it that Glasgow, save for the occasional night, have not been on it for the vast majority of the season. Not against the big boys. On the domestic and European front, they have gone backwards.
In Europe they won one game from six and shipped 12 tries in two matches against a full-strength Leinster, as opposed to the Leinster they took apart at Scotstoun in early November. With so many Test players missing on both sides, it was no kind of indicator as to the relative merits of their title-winning credentials.
True, their European pool was rough. Missing out on the last eight was understandable in such company, but one win, in round six, was a sobering reminder of Glasgow's place in the European scheme of things.
Recent weeks have seen Glasgow lose four of their last five games. This is when the Pro14 gets intense. When the Six Nations is out of the way, the title-chasers, or those chasing European qualification, bring out their A game and go for it.
Glasgow lost 26-8 in Llanelli, lost 36-15 in Belfast, lost 24-19 in Edinburgh and lost 28-13 to the Scarlets on Friday. They conceded 14 tries and an average of 28 points in those four games.
They suffered the loss of Stuart Hogg before the game, of course. In fairness to Rennie, he swatted away any suggestion that things might have been different had Hogg been there. It would have been a difficult road to go down.
The Scarlets were missing Leigh Halfpenny, Jonathan Davies and Jake Ball, two storied Lions and a second-row giant. They also lost John Barclay after 10 minutes. They didn't bat an eyelid.
There's been some moans from Glasgow about John Lacey, the referee. Lacey made some odd calls, but nobody should over-egg that one. Lacey wasn't responsible for all the soft penalties that Glasgow gave away, he wasn't responsible for them spilling so much ball or missing so many tackles and it wasn't Lacey who kicked so chronically to the Scarlets at pivotal times.
Rennie is a world-class coach, but this season has been a major let-down. He said himself that making a Pro14 semi-final was the least they were expecting so what does he do now that the semi-final was such a failure?
Glasgow were blunt. In the face of proper opposition who didn't care a jot for Fortress Scotstoun, they were a soft touch. Some of those Scarlets tries were beautifully executed but only after Glasgow practically invited them in to score. Some of it was wretched to behold.
The ugly truth is that the Scarlets can play better. They were terrific at times, but nobody in their ranks held this up as a great performance. That's a cold reality for Glasgow. They were routed on their own patch, in front of a large and noisy home crowd, by a team who were happy with the win but hardly euphoric at the circumstances in which they won.
There are big issues here for Rennie. His forward pack has been treading water for a while. They can all play, but there's a lack of grunt in there that costs them in the big games. Other sides have more belligerence about them. Others have more of the kind of characters that are relentlessly physical and uncompromising, unyielding buggers with a bit of nasty.
It will be interesting to see what Rennie does with his player recruitment and with the construction of coaching staff in the summer. Jonathan Humphreys is in charge of the forwards. Maybe it's time that a new voice was heard.
The howitzer conundrum is how to replace Finn Russell. There's nobody at the club who can step into his shoes, not if progress is the target, which it must be. Making do with Pete Horne can't be the way forward. He's not a 10 at the very highest level. However he does it, Rennie has to recruit a seasoned operator who's ready in the here and now for Pro14 and Champions Cup rugby.
That's an almighty challenge, one of many facing the coach after a season that promised much but delivered nothing. In his years in New Zealand, Rennie showed himself to be world class. In his second season with Glasgow he needs to do the same.