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Replacing Rennie is seismic task

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Selecting the next man in at Glasgow will be a task of seismic importance for SRU

Whether he goes to Australia and the beleaguered Wallabies, takes the hallowed crown of the All Blacks or is lured away by something or someplace else, the chances are that Dave Rennie will be gone from Glasgow when his contract expires in June 2020. 

Scottish Rugby have had ample time to plot for this eventuality. In fact, as soon as Rennie signed only a one-year extension last April, the odds of him staying beyond the end of the deal shortened by orders of magnitude.

The union ought to be well prepared. Behind the scenes, the word is that the search for a successor has already begun. If – and it looks altogether more like a case of when – Rennie goes, appointing his replacement becomes one of their most pivotal tasks of the past decade.

It presents a fascinating conundrum. Scottish Rugby has been eager to trumpet its improved pathway for burgeoning coaches, the national age-grade teams, sevens side and semi-professional Super Six offering stepping stones for Ben Cairns, John Dalziel, Calum MacRae and others. 

As head coaches, none of these guys are at Glasgow’s level yet. It’s just too soon. The club is too big and too successful to risk giving a rookie the reins, as heartening as it would be to see a young Scot take command.

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Of the Scottish candidates, MacRae did brilliantly with the sevens and has enhanced his reputation as Edinburgh’s defence guru, Kenny Murray has been at Glasgow for six years and seen his responsibilities steadily increase, but Mike Blair is the most obvious front-runner. 

A cerebral student of the game in the Gregor Townsend mould, he appears to have been earmarked for a quick and significant rise. He played for and coached Glasgow under Townsend and Rennie and is now full-time with the national side.

There is no other Scot currently embedded in the national set-up with a CV that comes close to matching Glasgow’s demands and ambitions. Is Blair, MacRae or Murray ready for the top job? Or better to let them continue to learn and develop until the next opportunity arises?

Jason O’Halloran is already at Glasgow and did a fine job in transforming Scotland’s attack under Vern Cotter. He has a track record in rearing young players in his native New Zealand. Danny Wilson, the Scotland forwards coach, is being considered. He did well with Wales under-20s and his stock rose further in charge of Cardiff Blues, but the travails of the Scottish pack in the Six Nations and then in Japan do not reflect well on him. 

It is a shame that one of his predecessors, Dan McFarland, who did excellent work with the Scotland forwards, has already left for Ulster where his tenure so far has been impressive.

In rooting themselves firmly among the PRO14’s biggest beasts and appointing Rennie, a two-time Super Rugby champion and a coach held in immensely high regard the world over, Glasgow have set a certain level of expectancy, a level any new coach must at least match. That suggests that a greener, home-grown candidate won’t cut it. To maintain these lofty standards, Glasgow need to go big again.

 

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They need a coach that will command respect and earn the buy-in of his players, as Richard Cockerill has done to spectacular effect at Edinburgh. Glasgow talk a lot about culture, the brotherhood formed in the old days at Firhill and evolved through a snarling Scottish core with a smattering of foreign stardust as they moved to Scotstoun.

They have carved a sizeable rugby niche in a city gripped by football, grown an impressive fan base on the back of elan, close bonds with their people and a community ethos. 

Hiring a coach who tries to change too much or veers away from that style would be a mistake. While they could do with more steel, up-the-jumper, box-kick-and-blitz isn’t the Glasgow way. It doesn’t suit their players and the crowd won’t have it.

Warriors also need a man with the profile and network to lure established overseas talent. There is a niggling worry that over the past few years, Glasgow have allowed some colossal names to leave without adequately replacing them. Since the last World Cup, Leone Nakarawa, Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, Josh Strauss and Alex Dunbar have all gone. While Warriors are typically very good at developing young successors, they haven’t made a real ‘statement signing’ in years. 

On their budget, Glasgow cannot always recruit a like-for-like substitute for, say, Hogg, but it would be encouraging to see them push the boat out to land a sexier name who might add special value to an area of the squad that needs it. 

To get big players, you generally need a big coach – like Rennie – or at least a coach with a big contacts book. If we remove ourselves from fantasy-land and assume that Warren Gatland won’t ditch the Chiefs to come to Scotstoun, Wayne Smith is unlikely to come out of semi-retirement on the other side of the world, and Eddie Jones isn’t going to reject an eye-watering new deal to flit north, where do Glasgow look?

They ought to start at the top. Scott Robertson, the Crusaders’ all-conquering break-dancer, is one of world rugby’s hottest properties, and will undoubtedly be among the foremost contenders to replace Steve Hansen. Robertson has won three Super Rugby titles in a row and is clearly a fantastic coach, but he inherited a wonderful squad. From the start of his reign in 2017, he had access to a slew of All Blacks, including almost half of the team that started the World Cup semi-final against England. 

While that certainly does not diminish his achievements, he has hardly had to bake a cake with crumbs. Robertson also lacks the overseas experience that the All Blacks board tend to favour for the top job. Getting him to Glasgow would be extremely difficult, but he is the calibre of coach Scottish Rugby should be examining.

Ben Ryan would be a riveting option. A free-thinking, socially aware coach, his ability to understand his players and use of clever methods could allow Warriors to flourish. Ryan is held in high esteem by Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson, who recently hired him to carry out a review of the performance department, and was a very strong candidate to land the Edinburgh job when Cockerill was appointed in 2017. He is known primarily for his Olympic sevens glory with Fiji, but give him a talented group of 15s players and the freedom to weave his magic and the results could be spectacular.

Sticking with the theme of innovators, Brendan Venter laid the platform for Saracens’ trophy run a decade ago and is one of modern rugby’s most famous pioneers. He has most recently worked with Italy – remember the “no-ruck” chaos that bamboozled England? – and would bring ideas and leadership.

The experienced Colin Cooper followed Rennie at Chiefs – his two seasons in charge were nothing special, but he is respected enough in New Zealand to have led two Super Rugby franchises and the Maori. Daryl Gibson, the former Glasgow centre, is out of work having left the Waratahs in the summer after four fluctuating years at the helm. England’s Jones is patently miles out of reach, but what about Scott Wisemantel, his attack coach? Australia are, by all accounts, keen to bring him home too, but again, he is the level of operator that Glasgow ought to be targeting.

Closer to home, Sam Vesty has burnished his reputation as one of England’s brightest young coaches at Worcester Warriors and Northampton Saints. He would be an intriguing option, not least because of his attacking focus and the glowing testimonies of those who have worked under him.

If Scottish Rugby are prepared to look at and potentially pay to secure contracted coaches, they could do a lot worse than Kieran Crowley, who has done magnificent work at Benetton but is tied there until 2022. Stuart Lancaster is under contract at Leinster, although the province have not disclosed the length of the deal – persuading him to move to Scotland and become a head coach again would be remarkable but not impossible.

It is unlikely that Cotter could be tempted back after the manner of his exit two years ago, but the gruff New Zealander would a thunderously popular appointment. Some of these are big names, but Glasgow are a big club. Most would have reckoned Rennie way beyond their thinking when Dodson brought him here in the summer of 2017. 

Glasgow are now firmly established among the PRO14’s heavyweights. They have a fanbase that exceeds their home ground and are on the brink of stadium expansion. They have a reputation for the cacophonous and the feverish and rugby that makes you purr. 

If Rennie goes, and all the indications are that he will, selecting the man to take on that mantle is a task of seismic importance.

WATCH: The latest episode of Don’t Mess With Jim sees ex-Scotland international Jim Hamilton discuss South Africa’s World Cup gold and Saracens’ salary cap breaches 

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Selecting the next man in at Glasgow will be a task of seismic importance for SRU