Dave Rennie: Glasgow coach ready for third crack at Europe before summer departure

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland
Glasgow Warriors head coach Dave Rennie
Dave Rennie starts his third and last European campaign with Glasgow Warriors on Saturday
European Champions Cup: Glasgow Warriors v Sale Sharks
Venue: Scotstoun Stadium Date: Saturday, 16 November Kick-off: 13:00 GMT
Coverage: Listen live on Radio Scotland & online; live text updates on BBC Sport Scotland website & app

These are significant times for Dave Rennie, with a big game to win with Glasgow against Sale in the opening round of the Champions Cup on Saturday and a big decision to make on whether to formally apply for the vacant All Blacks job, with a deadline of Monday.

What we know about Rennie's situation is that he will stay with the Warriors until the end of the season when his contract ends. What we also know is that for family reasons he's minded to head home - or closer to home.

The Kiwi is currently favourite to succeed Michael Cheika as coach of the Wallabies but the All Blacks became another possibility when the NZRFU invited him to apply to become successor to Steve Hansen.

That was hardly a surprise. The union asked 26 coaches if they'd be interested in putting their hat in the ring. Warren Gatland was one of them, but he has declined. So that leaves 25. Of the long list there appears to be four clear frontrunners. Ian Foster, the assistant coach for the last eight years; Jamie Joseph, the celebrated coach of Japan; Scott Robertson, the impressive Crusaders man; and Rennie, who coached New Zealand to three Junior World Cups and coached the Chiefs to two Super Rugby titles.

"We've spent the last six months trying to get a bit of clarity around our future and we're getting pretty close to making that decision," he says. "It'll be clearer in the next couple of weeks. I haven't applied for the New Zealand job. Applications close on Monday."

Is he still thinking about applying? "Yeah." Can he elaborate? "No," he laughs.

Wayne Smith, the vastly experienced and respected former All Black and assistant coach, talked up Rennie's chances the other day. It's a tough one to call.

"It's a massive sport in our country and it's a high-profile job and there's lots of high-quality candidates," he says. "I tend to keep away from it and don't read the coverage. Smithy [an old coaching mate of Rennie's] is a top man and, in my opinion, he's the best coach in the world and I'm sure if he made himself available he'd be the prime candidate."

Diminished Glasgow trying to adapt

The priority right now is Glasgow and their Champions Cup tie with Sale - a "must-win," says Rennie. This is his third, and final, attempt at Europe. In his first, he was drawn with Leinster, who went on to win it. In his second, Saracens, who also went on to win it. This time it's Sale, Stuart Hogg's Exeter and La Rochelle - a formidable line-up but without an established super-power who would be considered a banker to top the pool. This one is wide open.

Sale are lying a decent fourth in the Premiership, but they're coming to Glasgow under-strength. Rennie calls them "tough and innovative" but Faf de Klerk is not yet back in the loop after winning the World Cup and neither are Tom Curry and Mark Wilson, the English Sharks who played in the final. Sale's marquee recruit, the ferocious Springbok lock Lood de Jager, is injured.

The visitors might be diminished, but Glasgow are still trying to adapt to life post-Hogg, just as they were trying to adapt to life post-Finn Russell this time last year. "It's the way it is here," says Rennie. "Your best players are probably going to be targeted by bigger clubs. When you talk about trying to replace people like Finn and Hoggy with the same sort of quality, it costs a hell of a lot of money.

"Our focus has been on identifying others. I honestly think that Adam [Hastings] will get better and better and at full-back Tommy Seymour is enjoying the challenge, Glenn Bryce is a really good player and we have a couple of good ones in the academy. Ollie Smith and Rufus McLean have massive potential.

"Finn and Hoggy started out with the Warriors at a young age because coaches gave them a crack. Other guys will fill their shoes, but it might just take a couple of years."

Pro14 final 'a chance missed'

The last time we saw Glasgow in Europe was last season's quarter-final, a sobering 56-27 loss to Saracens that left Rennie briefly, but firmly, enraged at the slackness of his team. One of his players later said that he singled out certain individuals in the aftermath and called them imposters, something he denies saying.

"I'm not sure if if used the word 'imposters' but we were really disappointed because it was such a big game," he explains. "There were four quarter-finals that weekend. Three went to the wire and then there was us. But it was a catalyst for our season. We had to have a good look at our ourselves. We were playing really good footy going into the Pro14 final against Leinster and it was a chance missed, I reckon."

He didn't say much at the time but there was deep regret after that 18-15 defeat at Celtic Park, some of it to do with Nigel Owens and his interpretation of the scrum. "It was a debacle," recalls Rennie. "It was very frustrating how he refereed it. We didn't grizzle about it after the game because it was the last thing you wanted to be talking about.

"There were two things really. Hoggy got injured and that incident [Rob Kearney hit him in the air] was deemed a yellow card at the time but was later confirmed as a red card. Also, before the final, we sought clarity around the scrum. We felt that Leinster just walked left [illegally] and were getting rewarded for it, which is pretty common over here.

"We asked Nigel about it and he agreed and he said he was going to ref accordingly, but still he rewarded them for walking left. That was annoying, but outside of all of that we had opportunities to win the game and didn't take them, so we had to look at ourselves first."

'The Sale game is huge for us'

Glasgow scrum-half George Horne
Rennie calls Glasgow scrum-half George Horne "an incredible player"

Wherever he's heading next - Australia or New Zealand - Rennie desperately wants to win something before he goes.

Even without Hogg, he believes Glasgow are in a good place with a pack that can compete with anybody and a speed of movement around the field that will trouble all-comers. "We're a very fit team and we want to bring brutality to the game because if we bring it then it'll give us quick ball and it'll give the opposition slow ball and that's where you want to be," Rennie says.

Now that Glasgow's game-breakers are disappearing out the door season-on-season, there's a new emphasis on the younger generation to come through, players such as George Horne, whose battle with Ali Price will be fascinating not just in a Glasgow contest but in a Scotland context, too.

Rennie calls the scrum-half a freak. "He's just an incredible rugby player," he says. "There are a lot of nines around the world who are really fit but haven't got the speed, or they're really fast but can't sustain it. George is a freak. He can play 80 minutes at high speed and so you know if that somebody makes a break then George is going to be on their inside shoulder. Ali is very strong on that as well. It's why George scores so many tries; he's always there. I thought he had a fantastic World Cup and was probably unlucky not to start that final game. He's a real point of difference for us."

Glasgow need Horne at his best and his forwards at their most ruthless on Saturday. The Champions Cup is cut-throat. The Warriors lost their first home game last season - against Saracens - and still managed to qualify for the knockouts, but that's a bit of a rarity. Seven other teams failed to win their opening home fixture last season and all seven missed out on the quarter-finals.

"The quality of this competition is phenomenal," says Rennie. "Europe is clearly the toughest club competition in the world, tougher than Super Rugby."

A win against Sale would set them up nicely for a trip to Hogg's Exeter next week. "We love Hoggy, but I think there might be a few high balls put up to him early in that game by boys who'll be looking to get one over on him," he smiles. "We'll deal with that later, but the Sale game is huge for us. We have to win."

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