Like most of his fellow countrymen Dave Rennie usually avoids grandiose claims but uncharacteristically the Kiwi coach insisted that his Glasgow Warriors side would be much improved from last season – when they finished the regular campaign in top spot.
“I believe we will be a lot better than we were last year as we’re further down the track,” said Rennie at the Guinness Pro14 launch in Glasgow yesterday. “We’ve had a lot of detail in our pre-season and the coaching group has done a great job. We will have a better side than we had this time last year.”
Rennie is starting his second season in Glasgow, while negotiating to extend his stay even longer, and he should be better acquainted with how to win in Europe but the pieces on his chess board are almost unchanged as the club have made precious few signings over the summer.
Nick Frisby, the Wallaby No 9, and USA Eagle David “Tevita” Tameilau are two high-profile additions but the Warriors also have a raft of players who missed big chunks of last season with long-term injuries and having the likes of Alex Dunbar, Adam Ashe and Oli Kebble back in harness will feel like an injection of fresh blood.
“We had 16 guys [sign for the club] the year before,” Rennie pointed out. “A number of them are on two or three-year deals. There are a lot of Scottish guys we are keen to keep so we can manage them.
“Tevita comes in as we wanted another big ball carrier. Hopefully we’ll get more out of Adam Ashe this year. We are happy with the squad and the depth.”
The coach wants competition for places and while Rennie may be short of a “mongrel’”in his forward pack, Glasgow have no dearth of scrum-halves. Ali Price, George Horne and Frisby are all capped, with the youngster Kaleem Barreto also throwing his hat into the mix, although he may be lost to the Scotland sevens side.
All the above are running nines from a similar mould and you wonder, come the worst of the winter, whether Rennie may regret letting Henry Pyrgos move across the M8 to join Edinburgh. Amongst all the international scrum-halves Pyrgos is second oldest to Greig Laidlaw and, it is no coincidence, probably the second best behind the Borderer when it comes to game management.
Rennie promised to pick on form, as he did last season when dropping Price from the matchday 23. Currently recovering from a tweak to his groin, the scrummy will be hungry to regain his starting spot from George Horne.
George’s older brother Peter is sitting out the pre-season, in line with Scotland squad protocols, so he will not be available for selection until the first round of the Pro14 fixtures next weekend. He misses Friday’s friendly against Northampton.
Instead Adam Hastings will start at ten against the Saints in Glasgow’s second pre-season warm-up and the young stand-off will have Glasgow’s twin skippers Ryan Wilson and Callum Gibbins, the latter named as captain of the Pro14 Dream Team, for company.
Saints thumped the Dragons 42-10 in Newport last weekend but they were not the only ones to emerge on the right side of a shellacking.
Glasgow put 50 points past an ordinary looking Harlequins team on Saturday and stand-off Hastings appears to have grown in stature since earning his first two international caps over the summer. You might expect the same from his half-back partner Horne as both players have been hot-housed these last 12 months.
“We decided to wrap him [Hastings] up in cotton wool as he’s starting this week,” Rennie said.
“We can’t play Peter Horne until round 1 but Adam has been excellent in training. I think he has grown in confidence. He’s demanding, clear in his role, competitive and fit. He’s in really good nick.
“There’s no doubt that a lot of young men get their opportunity with Scotland a bit quicker than they would in New Zealand, where you have five Super Rugby teams. They have to learn quickly.
“I look at George and Adam, and they are outstanding trainers and keen to learn. They want to be challenged. It’s our job to accelerate their learning. We have more good, young kids coming through, as we saw at the weekend.”