And then there were none. The Scottish pro-teams’ season came to an abrupt end one week earlier than they had hoped but, let’s look on the bright side, Gregor Townsend will have his sizeable Glasgow contingent available for an extra week of training ahead of the summer tour.
You would have got long odds on both teams notching 15 wins in the regular season and the fact that Edinburgh made the play-offs was a big step in the right direction by the club which had been the worst underperforming in the competition. New coach Richard Cockerill and his mantra, hard work never killed anyone, made a big impact but repeating those improvements next season will only get harder.
Glasgow were also under new management. Dave Rennie won a Super Rugby title with the Chiefs at his very first kick of the ball and I had a small investment at 7-1 on his repeating the trick in the Guinness Pro14. It didn’t happen for a variety of reasons, chief among them being Scarlets’ impressive victory in Friday’s semi-final at Scotstoun.
“I’ve really enjoyed it,” Rennie replied when asked about the season in the round. “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.
“But ultimately I’m disappointed not to be playing 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.”
There are several reasons. Too many of Glasgow’s big guns were firing blanks all season. Alex Dunbar and Huw Jones couldn’t even make the matchday squad on Friday although that may have been a mistake. Perhaps Tommy Seymour is suffering an excess of rugby after touring with the Lions last summer. Stuart Hogg, who missed the semi-final due to illness, didn’t play badly over the course of the season but nor did he light the blue touch paper in the way we have come to expect. Ali Price appeared to suffer a loss of confidence and if he never comes up against Gareth Davies again it will be too soon. And Finn Russell was, well, Finn Russell. The France-bound stand-off, pictured below, did good things and he did bad things with rather more of the latter than Rennie would like.
But this could be like the old joke about the man who goes to the doctor and, he says it hurts here, touching his cheek, and it hurts here touching his shoulder and it hurts here touching his knee. The doctor replies: “You’ve broken your finger.”
The anaemic display by Glasgow’s backs is at least partly down to one thing… the service from the forwards. Those same backs looked pretty handy running in nine tries against Zebre in March. But against the best packs in the Pro14, Glasgow’s lightweight forwards rarely won the collisions, especially in the second half of the season, as Rennie tacitly conceded.
“Will we be looking to strengthen the pack? Absolutely,” said the Glasgow coach when asked about his forwards. “The big thing is around being able to create some go forward.
“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 [narrowed] them and now it’s on to move the ball away from there.”
But Glasgow’s powderpuff pack rarely made any dent in the Scarlets defence on Friday evening when their “go-forward” could be measured in millimetres. Glasgow repeatedly ran into a red brick wall. At one point in the first half Glasgow used two big miss passes to find Ruaridh Jackson on the right flank only for the full-back to find himself outnumbered because the Scarlets’ defence had not been narrowed. You have to earn the right to go wide and Glasgow, for all their undoubted efforts, struggle to do that against the big boys.
Only in the final quarter, with the Scarlets tiring and the match already won, did Glasgow’s big men finally make some headway, which is why Peter Horne looked better than Russell on the night.
“We’ve got a couple of options to come back in,” Rennie added. “Hopefully that will give us a little bit more go forward and a little bit more edge.”
Some of that much-needed edge will be imported. Glasgow are losing nine players for various reasons this summer and according to the coach they have replaced perhaps seven of them, most of whom have yet to be announced and you have to hope there is a big, beefy ball-carrying blindside in there somewhere. Teenager Matt Fagerson is a super rugby player but a stick insect compared to most of the behemoths he faces.
Some of that edge is closer to hand. Adam Ashe has a point to prove after making only eight league appearances; three more than Brian Alainu’uese who last played in October and is exactly the big-boned, hard-nosed enforcer that Glasgow need. Oli Kebble is a genuine option on either side of the scrum, adding power in defence and attack that Glasgow just don’t have.
On the plus side Rennie name-checked a few of the young players, Fagerson, George Horne and Adam Hastings, who will be better for the experience they have gained this season.
Those three will tour with Scotland next month but those Warriors that don’t will get a whole month off before pre-season starts in earnest after a gruelling 50-week season.
You have to hope that the big weights in the Scotstoun gym are going to be fully booked for when the players return to business.