Warriors new coach Dave Rennie: Why I belong to Glasgow
He won three U20 World Championships with New Zealand from 2009-2011 and then surpassed that achievement by taking the under-performing Chiefs, who had previously finished in 13th place, to the Super Rugby title in his first and his second seasons at the helm, the only coach who can make that boast. His side were only thwarted at the semi-final stage this season by eventual winners, the Crusaders.
More recently, his name was linked with the Bulls and the South African Springboks themselves. Rennie is widely seen as a strong contender for the All Blacks post as and when Steve Hansen walks away from the job.
It is all too obvious why Glasgow Warriors wanted Rennie but, apart from a Stranraer grandfather, John Rennie, who quit Scotland aged two, quite why the Kiwi chose a relative rugby backwater is a trickier question to answer?
“Gregor [Townsend] spent a little bit of time with the Chiefs in 2012 and I got to know him pretty well,” replied Rennie when answering just that poser. “I have taken a keen interest in Glasgow ever since.
“When I had a look at the opportunity here, good people, good culture. Gregor has done a good job here and they are an aspirational group of men. I thought it was a really good fit.
“It is similar [to the Chiefs]. The Chiefs have a big emphasis on culture and you pick good men and we play a pretty attractive brand of footy. I think it fits, yeah.”
There is one other possible reason that Rennie has shipped himself, his wife and pets halfway across the world and it revolves around his ultimate ambition which, he makes no secret of the fact, is to coach the All Blacks.
The last two New Zealand coaches, Graham Henry and Steve Hansen, both earned their northern hemisphere spurs with Wales and there may be a feeling at the top of the NZRFU that exposure to European rugby is a prerequisite in a modern, well-rounded All Blacks coach?
The only time the otherwise assured Rennie half stumbled on a question was when he paused noticeably before answering, in the negative, whether Hansen’s decision to stay on to the 2019 World Cup had influenced his own decision to move north. Quizzed about his hesitation, Rennie replied: “I just thought, ‘that’s all I’ll give you’.”
As he claimed, Rennie is a natural fit for Glasgow because the Chiefs were famous for running the ball from all corners and, at their best, the Warriors do something similar. But the Kiwi warned against expecting the Warriors to ape his former team in every respect.
Moreover, he insisted, perhaps surprisingly, that the biggest difference between New Zealand and the rest lies not in the dynamism of the back play but in the ability of the forwards to execute their skills under pressure.
“We played a certain style with the Chiefs over the last few years,” said the Kiwi.
“It would be a mistake to try to stamp their game on this team. We have to work through what our strengths [are] and the good thing is they play a positive brand of footy. It is different.
“There are some outstanding skill levels here. the biggest difference between new Zealand rugby and the rest of the world is the big men who have the footwork and keep the ball alive and so on. There are a lot of backs over here who are as good as the ones in New Zealand. So the biggest difference between New Zealand rugby and the rest of the world is the quality of the big men who have footwork and the ability to move the ball out of the hands and keep the ball alive.
“The thing is to try to develop the game so that we have more threats on the park.”
When asked about his new club, Rennie was overwhelmingly positive, not least about the four assistant coaches, Jason O’Halloran, an old friend from back home, and John Humphreys, Kenny Murray and Mike Blair whom he referenced as “good men” on every available occasion.
On the playing side, he name- checked the usual suspects, Stuart Hogg, who he fancied would have started the first Lions’ Test had he been fit, Finn Russell, Jonny Gray and the breakaway Ryan Wilson as much for his leadership as for his play, which was the only clue Rennie was offering on a potential club captain except to say that he liked having two rather than one given the size of the modern squad.
Although he has visited the city three times before showing up to work Monday last, Rennie is obviously running hard to get up to speed with what is inevitably a completely new environment.
“The biggest thing is the lack of time I’ve had to be in front of the boys,” said the Kiwi. “Ideally, I would have been here three months ago. But we have some outstanding men in our coaching group.”
One more, he wasn’t ever going to say, since the boss clocked on.