There will be no great fanfare to mark Dave Rennie’s departure as Glasgow Warriors head coach. No swansong at Scotstoun or the dream send-off at the Cardiff City Stadium on 20 June having led Warriors to that Pro14 title he so desperately wanted.
Instead, his exit will be low key, his departure for the Australia job brought forward amid the continuing uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. Rennie will not see out the remainder of the Pro14 season, whenever that may be, and instead hands over the reins to successor Danny Wilson.
“In the previous two years we got ourselves way out in front in the conference, qualified first but didn’t win the title,” Rennie said.
“Maybe sneaking in through the backdoor to qualify, and we’d got ourselves into third spot, maybe that was the way to go. I guess we’ll never know.”
Did Rennie live up to expectations? That was arguably always an impossibility, given the hype around him when he was appointed. A two-time Super Rugby title-winner with the Chiefs, Rennie was long identified as a potential All Blacks coach. Winning his first 10 league games with Warriors only heightened those expectations.
One semi-final and one final in two completed Pro14 seasons and one European quarter-final in three attempts would indicate a good return, if not quite to the level many Warriors fans had hoped. It’s that lost final to Leinster at Celtic Park last season that sticks with Rennie, the one that got away.
‘The atmosphere was just phenomenal’
“It was tough,” he said. “They are long seasons up here and an enormous amount of work goes in from a lot of people to get to a final. We were riding a wave at the time, confident and expecting to win. You don’t consider losing. It’s only when you sit down and realise you haven’t nailed it that it starts to hurt.
“That final was disappointing for lots of reasons. Not just for the players but for the fans who were incredible. The numbers we had at Celtic Park, the environment and the atmosphere was just phenomenal.”
It was in Europe where some of Glasgow’s highest highs and crushing lows have come during Rennie’s tenure. Two games back-to-back in this season’s Champions Cup campaign summed them up in microcosm. A gutsy, epic victory away to La Rochelle ignited their qualification charge. The following week, Warriors took a wrecking ball to their chances of progression, producing a feeble display as the French side’s second string did a number on them at Scotstoun.
The hope was that Rennie would elevate Glasgow from occasional European quarter-finalists to something more, but raising standards is hard while losing quality. Two of Warriors’ crown jewels, Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg, departed during Rennie’s reign with no box office replacements. That meant the New Zealander was forced to develop youngsters instead, and this is where the importance of his work may come to the surface in years to come.
“I think we’re in a pretty good place,” he said. “We can’t afford to keep people like Finn and Hoggy. These guys have done their time. Hoggy was here for nine seasons and we probably did well to keep him that long. He’s one of the high-profile players in world rugby and deserves to be paid accordingly.
“It gives an opportunity to bring through young guys and develop them. We’ve seen the emergence of Adam Hastings and although he’s not the finished article yet, there’s a lot to like about him. I reckon in a couple of years’ time he’ll be a really good international 10.
“Scott Cummings will be the replacement for Jonny Gray. He’s got a huge work ethic as well, a smart man, calls the line-outs well and is a real point of difference with his athleticism as well. When these big dogs go it’s going to be young guys that step up.”
Retracing family roots, Scottish sensibilities & seafood
Rennie recalls his first game in charge of Glasgow away to Connacht. The conditions at the Sportsground in Galway are famously atrocious and when Peter Horne’s attempted kick at goal blew back over his own head, Rennie “wondered what I’d got myself into”.
But the good memories have far outweighed the bad, and that’s what he’ll carry with him as he departs for Australia and the next chapter of his career.
“All my coaching had been down in New Zealand so I wanted to experience a different culture, different ways of playing rugby and it is different up here,” he said. “It’s been great.
“I look back to how we were playing at the business end of last season, playing really good footy. We were playing some of the best sides in Europe in that last run and I think we beat Leinster, Ulster and Edinburgh and all three of those sides were in the last eight in Europe. I was really proud of that effort.
“But it’s the people I’ll miss. A lot of it comes back to laughter. The Scottish are funny people and I haven’t laughed as much in any environment as much as I have in my time here.
“I’ve travelled all over Scotland and had a decent look at various things. My grandfather was born in Stranraer so we spent a bit of time down there. We went up to Skye and went to Oban and went to this seafood restaurant right on the water and it was as good as any seafood I’ve ever tasted.
“I’ve loved the food, I’ve loved the people and I’ve loved our time here. It’s been special, we’ll miss it.”