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'Glasgow play a very fast, attacking brand of rugby. We want to keep that going'

By Jamie Lyall
Scotland's Danny Wilson is easing into his new role at Glasgow. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

These days, new rugby coaches are given ostentatious unveilings, introduced to the press and the supporters against a sparkling backdrop. Clubs and their marketing people are eager to put on a show that befits the grandeur of the appointment.


Richard Cockerill held his first briefing in charge of Edinburgh in a steakhouse. Glasgow staged Dave Rennie’s at a glitzy hotel where most of the lunchtime patrons are adorned by some corporate lanyard or other.

Such is the necessary tedium of life amid the coronavirus pandemic, Danny Wilson addressed the media for the first time as Glasgow coach from his house on Wednesday afternoon, presented to a rogues’ gallery of sprouting lockdown hair, crinkled shirts, desperately unflattering webcam angles and the painful absence of a free buffet.

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Tony Brown Highlanders Super Rugby Aotearoa Round Four
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Rightly or wrongly, this enforced and unglamorous first look at Wilson as a Warrior mirrors how a chunk of the club’s fanbase feels about their new man. Scotland’s pack did not blossom as Wilson would have hoped under his stewardship, although his influence may well have been blunted by a conflict of styles with Gregor Townsend.

There are worries that his sideways shift from the national team to Glasgow after less than two years is a convenient and inexpensive route out for all parties.

But the former hooker should not have to begin his reign by defending his credentials for the job.

As a number one, he was adored at Cardiff Blues while the region was ravaged by financial chaos, winning the European Challenge Cup in 2018, developing a powerful culture and a host of top young players.


Some of Welsh rugby’s biggest names are effusive in their praise for the former hooker. In the years before the Blues, he took Wales Under-20s to a Junior World Championship semi-final and final in successive seasons, beating New Zealand along the way. 

Yet after the stardust of Rennie, and the glory brought by Townsend, Wilson is going to have to compel those unmoved by his excellent work.

“I’m really proud of what I’ve been involved in as a head coach and the environments I’ve been involved in,” Wilson said.

“I’ve been involved in Cardiff Blues winning a European trophy, taking an U20s team to a World Cup final and what we achieved as that group.


“Granted, I’m not a Dave Rennie name, I understand that, but I believe in my ability to do the job and add value to the job. I know it’s a very passionate rugby environment, going in to Glasgow as an away coach I know that, and being there as a Scotland coach I know that.

“My focus is getting in the door, getting on the job, and hopefully adding value.”

The angst is compounded by a dearth of new signings at a time where Glasgow has inexorably leaked some of its greatest talent. In three years under Rennie, Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg left, and Jonny Gray has now followed.

There was talk of a major recruitment drive when Gray’s departure for Exeter Chiefs was confirmed, but Covid-19 took a sledgehammer to that.

Warriors have done very well to keep Leone Nakarawa, the incredible Fijian lock, for another season, brought back Richie Gray from France and signed Argentina international prop Enrique Pieretto, but there are still big holes in their squad.

Warriors desperately need a front-line full-back a year since Hogg went, and while Wilson would dearly love to sign one, he can’t do so with Scottish Rugby’s recruitment in a state of indefinite suspension.

“I’m not going to hide away from that [signing a full-back], it’s certainly part of the plans,” he said. “It’s on hold at the moment and hopefully we can pick that up again.

He added: “We have a couple more announcements to make. Due to the current situation, we were paused in terms of recruitment. There were plans to do a bit more, but we have been on pause since March.

“Leone makes a huge difference to the back-five of the scrum. We worked really hard over a period of time to keep him at Glasgow. We now have a couple more signings to make that will deal with the back-five of the scrum area and we will then see how the future lies when we come out of this period.”

On the Pro14’s official podcast last week, it was fascinating to hear Sean Holley, the former Ospreys coach and a colleague of Wilson’s at Bristol, talk of his friend’s love for the “nuts and bolts” of the game, how he might steer Glasgow away from an overly gung-ho style of play that has haemorrhaged tries from turnover ball this season, and improve their set-piece.

The gist was that Wilson is exactly what they need.

That seems to jar with the established and treasured Glasgow way, a feverish, edge-of-the-seat team who can score from anywhere and play at blistering speed. What Wilson wants to bring is a little more calmness, a more robust defence and greater accuracy in possession. This term, they concede on average three tries per Pro14 match.

“Glasgow play a very fast, attacking brand of rugby,” he said. “Their attacking stats are phenomenal and have been for the past few years. We want to keep that going and develop it because I think that’s what brings people in to watch.

“The players and supporters are passionate about it, so that identity is not going to change. But we also need to build on our defence and develop a game management strategy.

“If we can build on those two things to go with the attacking brand then I think that will move us forward.

“That’s the balancing act of what we’re trying to do. When we talk about defence, there are still some really good examples of some defensive strengths at Glasgow.

“When they lost the final last year, they were a top-four defence in terms of tries conceded. They’re not a top-four defence for tries conceded this year, however a lot of those tries conceded have come from turnovers as a source of possession to the opposition.

“We need to look at that balancing act, and yes, it is difficult to be able to maintain huge focus on attack and get the other two improved, but being very open and honest, the other two do need to improve from a statistical point of view a little bit to help bolster this season’s league position for the future.”

Because of the government furlough rules, the new coach has not even been able to contact many of his players until very recently, let alone get a look at how they are faring and begin to implement what he wants. Only last week could they return to Murrayfield for voluntary conditioning sessions.

Glasgow are third in Conference A, and will complete their truncated Pro14 season with consecutive derbies against Edinburgh at Murrayfield. The first is scheduled for 22nd August, seven weeks away. Even should they take maximum points from both, it is virtually impossible for them to catch Ulster, nine points above them, and make the semi-finals, and there will not be much respite before the new season starts in earnest.

For all that Wilson longed to return to a head coach role, this is an entirely unique and deeply challenging prospect.

“I haven’t spoken before, but the first thing you do when you go into a new club is you get in front of your players and you speak to them about your research and your plans and you get their thoughts,” he said.

“I haven’t been able to do any of that. I’ve done the research and I’ve been able to speak to the boys now in some capacity, but nowhere near as I would have wanted to speak to them. Things have been very different.

“I had had plans to spend a couple of months with Dave as a fly on the wall but that went out of the window so all my research was done from afar. That research has been done so the next stage is to get in, get in front of the players.

“We get through this first phase of voluntary conditioning – at the moment the guys have been out of proper gym conditioning for three or four months, so there is going to be a drop of muscle mass, and that muscle mass is the foundation of playing physical contact sports – but the running part is an important part as well and then we get to the rugby bit.

“The rugby bit really is a four-five-week block, all being well. So it’s a short gap where you need to be well-prepared, well-planned, it’s much shorter than a normal pre-season to try and get up to speed.”

Glasgow have long cemented themselves among the Pro14’s biggest fish, carved out a feverish niche in a city gripped by football and unstintingly sell out Scotstoun.

Rennie’s panache and intelligence took them further, but not far enough to land a trophy. There is no fanfare for Wilson in these unprecedented times, but you get the feeling he doesn’t care about that.

In his quiet, studious pragmatism, Glasgow must now place their faith.


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