Belfast Telegraph

Warriors want to brutalise Ulster to reach their home final

Glasgow v Ulster, Guinness PRO14 Championship - Semi-Final, Scotstoun Stadium, Tonight, 7.35pm

Ready to roll: Adam Hastings of Glasgow Warriors and Ulster skipper Rory Best
Ready to roll: Adam Hastings of Glasgow Warriors and Ulster skipper Rory Best
Dave Rennie
Jonathan Bradley

By Jonathan Bradley

When arriving in Glasgow ahead of last season, Dave Rennie faced an interesting challenge.

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He landed with an eye-catching CV, one that boasted back-to-back Super Rugby titles with the Chiefs of Sonny Bill Williams, Brodie Retallick, Aaron Cruden et al in 2012 and 2013, the first of which saw him become the first coach to bag the title in their maiden season of the competition.

It always seemed something of a coup, but the man he was replacing in the west end of Scotland's second city was an icon.

Not only was Gregor Townsend a Five Nations winner and a British and Irish Lion, but he was the man that brought the Warriors their first PRO12 title, landing the crown at Kingspan Stadium thanks to a Grand Final victory over Munster.

While Glasgow suffered something of a drop in form in the year before Townsend graduated to the national side - incidentally taking current Ulster head coach Dan McFarland with him as a forwards specialist - the challenge for Rennie was clear. He had to put his own stamp on what was already a well-oiled machine.

His focus has been on the collision area, where "brutality" has become a favourite adjective.

"We talk a lot about it because traditionally Glasgow has been an east-west side," he explained.

"They play a flamboyant style of footie and can run around teams, but defences have improved so much now in their ability to fill the field that you need to be able to go through the middle to shape defences.

"To generate quick ball from that you need brutality - support players winning races, sharp shoulders and so on."

On their artificial track, Glasgow can be a menace at the breakdown, knowing that with their game-breakers in the backline, oftentimes quick ball is the majority of the battle.

"The speed of our ball comes down to the quality of our carrying and the speed of our support players," Rennie continued.

"And obviously a nine getting there quickly and playing at a tempo that's difficult for a defence.

"That sort of game allows you to bring brutality. It's an important part of what we do.

"As a group of coaches we sit down and talk about where we think our game is at. We look at the cattle we've got and the type of game we want to play and what we think is key.

"It's all around generating quick ball and trying to eliminate numbers off their feet.

"It's a focus for us. Lightning quick ball is massive because of the type of game we want to play. It gives you the ability to stress some of the big teams with big forwards."

Last season, the Warriors were early front-runners, winning their first ten league games despite a fairly disastrous Champions Cup showing in between.

For all that early superiority, they ended the season with no silverware, bombing out of the play-offs at their first hurdle and becoming the only side to lose a home semi-final in this competition.

"There were concerns that rust had played its part, the side going into that last-four tie, like this year, having not played in almost three weeks.

Rennie believes they have learned the lessons from last year but admits the wider world will only appreciate the fact should it be backed up by the winning of a trophy next week just across the city in Celtic Park.

"It's how everyone measures a season," he says of silverware.

"We have put a lot of work in to get to this position. You've got to grab it. It's down to four teams now, four good sides who are all capable of winning it. The key is being the best on the day.

"We're in a much better place than we were 12 months ago and have trained with a real edge during this three-week break."

Just as Glasgow will expect to be a different beast to twelve months ago, Rennie is expecting a changed Ulster side to the one that pitched up at Scotstoun in the wake of their Champions Cup exit and were duly hammered by a score of 30-7.

"We know Ulster will be a completely different animal to the side we faced here last month and we're going to have to play better than we did that day to get the result," he said.

"We're all determined to be a part of a Glasgow final and know we're going to have to play our best rugby of the season to get there."

The shoe was on the other foot when these two last met in the semi-finals, with Ulster looking to secure a place in the Belfast final of 2015. Warriors out-half Adam Hastings admits that the carrot of playing next week's final in their own city, and at Celtic Park no less, is considerable.

"We've talked about how cool it would be to be involved in a final in our home city," he said.

"It would effectively be a home game, and we've spoken about how awesome it would be to play there, but we're not getting too far ahead of ourselves because we still have a semi-final to get through.

"Glasgow is more of a football city and Edinburgh is more rugby. That's just how it has always been. One of my best mates from school is a massive Celtic fan and he has season tickets.

"When his brother couldn't go with him I would go along, so I've been to quite a few games."

Not everyone is quite so enthused.

"Rory Hughes is a big Rangers fan, so if we pick him he probably won't play," Hastings added in jest.

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