Al Kellock opens up on building a winning culture at Glasgow Warriors, making the city proud of the team and praise for Danny Wilson
Appointed managing director towards the end of last season, Kellock’s sphere of influence now extends beyond what happens on the pitch but the former skipper sees plenty of similarities in the two roles.
Now 40, he spent six years working in a commercial role with Scottish Rugby before answering the call of his local club.
“The similarities are probably the leadership element,” he said when invited to compare the positions of captain and MD. “That comes from a passion for the club, an understanding of where the club has been. There is a huge amount of history in this club, history that I was incredibly proud of as a player and I’m incredibly proud of as managing director.
“There are certain targets we want to aim for that are hugely similar to the targets I had when I was playing.
“There is an overview to make sure the players have the ability to understand what ‘good’ looks like. I think that is massively important - to identify good behaviours so we can carry on those good behaviours. Also, it’s important that you also identify poor behaviours, the behaviours you need to call out.
“There’s nothing wrong with a bit of confrontation so long as it is used to move the environment forward.”
He knows how tough it will be to compete at the sharp end against better resourced clubs, both in Europe and the new United Rugby Championship which will see South Africa’s top four sides, stuffed full of World Cup winners, joining the teams from last season’s Pro14.
As the local boy who led Glasgow to victory over Munster in the 2015 Pro12 final before hanging up his boots, Kellock has a special connection with club and city and it is one he would like to strengthen. The early signs are encouraging. After a year playing behind closed doors, Warriors fans have snapped up more than 4,540 season tickets for the new campaign, a club record. It’s an impressive achievement in such a football-dominated city.
“I want us to have a significant impact on our local community but also Glasgow as a city,” said Kellock. “I believe that when you play for Glasgow Warriors you are representing the city. We have to reignite that and bring in new audiences, make people proud of Glasgow Warriors.
“A lot of that will be done through engagement with our clubs in the city and in the wider catchment area.
“On the field we want to win. Is that an immediate, realistic target? Well, we’ll find out an awful lot in the first five or six weeks of the season. I’m not one for jumping in and saying what will happen in nine months or so. But if we get everything else right, we have a great group of coaches and players. I believe the squad is looking very strong and we will be competitive in everything that we do.”
The Warriors struggled for large chunks of last season. They never challenged at the top end of the Pro14 and eventually finished fourth of six in Conference A to claim the final place in this season’s Heineken Champions Cup.
There were extenuating circumstances, with new coach Danny Wilson deprived of his Scotland internationals for almost the entire Pro14 campaign due to the extended autumn Test window and the difficulties of moving players between the two team ‘bubbles’ during lockdown.
Nevertheless, it was only the second time in the ten-year history of the Pro12/Pro14 that Glasgow had failed to reach the semi-finals. The low point came in the opening game of the Rainbow Cup when the Warriors were trounced 46-19 by Benetton in Treviso, shortly after Kellock’s appointment.
“That was a tough place to be for everybody involved,” admitted the MD. “What I saw post-that was an incredible turnaround. It was an emotional reaction but also a performance-based reaction, both on and off the field, and Danny led that.
“Danny’s had a tough opening season and I think he’s very much looking forward to getting back to some sort of normality.
“There is an awful lot more that can be done as far as building that team is concerned but what we saw at the end of last season shows we are in a pretty good place.”
Glasgow bounced back from the defeat in Italy to win their remaining four matches in the Rainbow Cup, including back-to-back victories over Edinburgh which saw them reclaim the 1872 Cup for the first time since 2017.
Kellock describes the present squad as “a very, very honest group of players” but can they emulate their predecessors who reached three Pro14 finals in six seasons between 2014 and 2019?
“It is very difficult to give you a timeline on that but what we can do is put the stepping stones in place to get back there,” said Kellock. “The big thing for me in the first four and a half months is the environment and making sure we have the sort of environment that we get the best out of everybody. We have talked internally an awful lot about a 90 per cent environment, 90-plus environment. We need everybody on field and off field to be operating at that 90 per cent plus, that top ten percentile.
“We are never going to have the same budget as a Toulon or a Toulouse but what we do have is the ability to get the best out of ourselves. If you arrive in this environment you will get the best out of yourself and we will give ourselves a chance of winning things.
“We will add to it, to change, but ultimately we are looking to get the best out of people. That’s not just the playing group, it is everyone involved.”