Rennie says side are fitter than ever for Europe
STATISTICALLY Glasgow Warriors’ form as they head into Europe may not be quite as impressive as that of a year ago when they boasted a 100 per cent winning record, but once more leading PRO14 Conference A as they make the step up to the Champions Cup, their coach believes he has seen evidence that they are better prepared.
In the early part of the season it can be difficult to assess teams on the basis of PRO14 results as the Irish provinces work their way into the season. However, with access to all the analytical information that now proliferates in professional rugby, Rennie is happier with how his side has been winning, with the balance shifting more towards substance than style.
Observing that too often last season they were claiming easy wins on the back of “flashy” scores, he has sought to improve fitness levels so they can build more patiently and earn scores, rather than feeling forced to gamble when they do not come easily.
“We’ve had to work harder to score, so we’ve been more patient,” he said.
“We’ve scored a lot of tries that have been 12-phase plus and while it’s good to score off one or two phases, at times last year when we came up against better defences and hadn’t scored after three or four phases we were throwing miracle balls to pull a rabbit out of our backside. So, I think we’ve been more disciplined all around. If it’s not on, we’re carrying and our ruck’s not a disaster. We try and recycle. Like I said, we’re a fit side, but if you turn the ball over after two phases you don’t get to dictate the pace. We’re keen to make use of our conditioning.”
Perhaps the best individual example is the revitalisation of Ali Price, the scrum-half Rennie singled out last season as having let his fitness levels drop while on international duty, but who has now re-established himself ahead of George Horne as the Warriors’ starting No 9.
“At the moment one will start the other will finish and both will probably get a reasonable amount of game time,” said Rennie. “We know George has a brilliant second touch and that is a strength of Ali’s game too. He’s in great condition so he’s getting to the breakdown really quickly and that will be really important, so he gets the nod but there’s not much between them.”
The only team with real pedigree that Glasgow have met so far is two-time former European champions Munster and, impressive as they were that night in setting up a 22-0 lead by the interval, the evidence is equivocal. Only two of the Munster backs and two of the forwards who started that night will do so again when they meet Exeter Chiefs in their Champions Cup opener, while the second half was a very different game after Munster brought on some of their leading lights. The Irish side ‘won’ that half 10-3, but Rennie believes that positives can still be taken.
“The point is that they had all the ball in the second half and scored [a try] once,” he noted. “So, it was a real quality defensive performance in the second half. It was made reference that they were missing two or three players but so were we. I thought it was a really dominant performance with and without the ball against a side that obviously deserves a bit of healthy respect, but we knew that day that we had to be at our best to be competitive and it’s the same this week and the same sort of mindset in my opinion.”
Their defence will be thoroughly tested tomorrow by the 2015/16 and 2016/17 Champions Cup winners and Rennie acknowledged that further improvement is required.
“We will have to defend well,” he said.“Our lineout has been going well. Our defensive lineout has been going well too. The way to nullify them is to stop them at source obviously. It’s easier said than done perhaps. We will have to defend better than we have done in recent weeks, by which I mean tackle but we have a side on the field that will chop them and we are going to have to try and slow their ball down. That is important to give us a chance to get some line speed and give us a chance to get bodies on bodies. If we are passive and they get in behind us and the big men are charging onto it, it’s hard to slow down. The quality of our tackling will be massive for us.”
Glasgow Warriors coach Dave Rennie is happy his side don’t have to gamble for tries