As pre-season preparations go the Famous Grouse’s Whisky Experience at Glenturret (the oldest whisky distillery in the world) was an unlikely venue for a professional rugby club. But the players of Glasgow Warriors were in good spirits as every club tends to be before the campaign proper begins.
“We had a really good month from the start of July without the nine internationals,” said coach Dave Rennie. “The boys turned up in good nick and worked hard. There has been a massive focus around micro skills so there has been a lot catch/pass, a lot of tackle, a lot of carry-and-clean, trying to make sure that part of our game is better.
“We spent a few days over in Largs, which was a nice change of venue. Then they had a break for a week, and all the international boys have been in for the last two and a half weeks and I’m really happy that they’ve turned up in good nick. The boys have prepared well but it is always a bit different when you go out to play live opposition; it will give us a better indication of where we are at by putting us under a bit of pressure.”
That live oppo is Harlequins, on Saturday afternoon in Perth, which will give Rennie an early marker, although few of Scotland’s summer tourists are involved. Jonny Gray missed the tour but starts on Saturday as does Rory Hughes, in the No 15 jersey, and Oli Kebble, the giant South African prop, gets a run at loosehead. Aussie international scrum-half Nick Frisby makes his debut with half-back partner Brandon Thomson, although much of the focus will inevitably fall upon substitute Adam Hastings who is widely tipped to inherit Finn Russell’s No 10 shirt following the latter’s move to France.
“I think he has certain parts of his game that he needs to work on,” Rennie said of Hastings. “He is green and has a lot to learn. He is incredibly competitive, has a great skill set and is fit as, so because of that he gets in position quickly and he is a real talker and organiser.
“If I compare him to Finn I think his urgency to get in position is superior, he is a good talker and he has a lot of confidence to poke people in the chest and what have you. He has a very good kicking game and when he plays for us he puts us in good parts of the field and I think it was great that he had a couple of runs for Scotland in the summer.”
Tim Swinson is out until December with a broken leg, DTH van der Merwe should be right by the start of the Guinness Pro14 on 1 September, although Brian Alainu’uese’s ankle may take a few weeks longer.
Glasgow have been relatively quiet in the transfer market. In addition to Frisby, Rennie’s other main summer signing was USA Eagle David “Tevita” Tameilau, who adds some ballast to a lightweight breakaway unit.
“We’ve got good depth in a number of areas,” Rennie argued. “We felt that we needed a bit more of a physical presence in the loose forwards, and hopefully we’ll get a bit more game time out of Adam Ashe this year; he started last season pretty well and then was pretty much injured from round eight. And we’ve brought in Tevita but we’re not going to rush him, he’s only just arrived so he’s not going to play in the early stages until we get him in the sort of condition we need him in to be effective. We’re pretty happy with our depth in most of those positions. There is a lot of competition for places and the attitude has been great.”
The Warriors coach highlighted a number of areas his side must improve upon if they are to better last season’s semi-final exit in the Pro14; basic handling, clear out, error count and he name checked champions Leinster’s apparently infinite patience while going through the phases.
“I just think we made far too many errors, we turned over too much ball,” said Rennie. “Some of that is skill-set under pressure and some of that is patience to build. So, that’s an area we have put a lot of time into, our catch-pass to be better under pressure. We still want to play and challenge teams, but if you look at Leinster, it was their ability to hang on to the ball for long periods and build pressure, to force errors or win penalties.
“They are pretty impressive, so that’s an area we’ve got to be better.”