Pro14: Glasgow pragmatism only certainty in uncertain times

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland
Glasgow Warriors
Glasgow Warriors ended last season outside the play-offs
Pro14: Connacht v Glasgow Warriors
Venue: Galway Sportsgrounds Date: 3 October Time: 17:15 BST

In the last week of February, Glasgow went to Dublin for a Pro14 game and put in the kind of performance that signalled the final unravelling of the Dave Rennie era.

The way they went about their work that night was an exercise in naivety and stupidity. They lost 55-19. Mentally, if not physically, Rennie was already on the plane to Australia at that point.

Leinster scored nine tries and too many of them were soft touches handed to them on a plate by a side that thought it a good idea to launch attacks from deep against the league's most savage defence.

The fact that they hit blue wall after blue wall, got turned over, and then shipped try after try didn't seem to register. The innocents kept lining up for the slaughter. It was mortifying.

Glasgow finished the truncated season outside of the play-offs. No wonder. They conceded 329 points, which put them eighth out of 14 clubs in terms of points given away, and let in 42 tries, which put them in eighth in that category, too.

As the new season begins, there's one roaring certainty - Glasgow under Danny Wilson will attempt to be more pragmatic than Glasgow under Rennie.

'Coaches will age before our eyes'

These are weird times and this is going to be a weird competition. There are games on Sunday nights and Monday nights, all of them carrying on through a frantic Test match schedule and in the face of Covid.

Bombs will be going off left, right and centre for all coaches. Players will have to withdraw from games and isolate because they've tested positive or somebody they've been around has.

Wilson and Richard Cockerill are going to age in front of our eyes as they hunt around for players to fill gaps, especially in those weeks when they're without a stratospheric number of them through international duty.

The Super 6 isn't functioning, so it's not an option for emergency supplies. The coaches are charged primarily with winning games but filling squads might be an issue if this virus doesn't leave them alone.

Time was when this competition used to throw up romantic storylines like Glasgow, Connacht and the Scarlets winning in a blaze of passion and glory, but for the last three years Leinster have cruised it. Even while using their marquee players sparingly they have won it in a canter.

The league has problems and everybody knows it. Too many turkey shoots, not enough crowds, not enough visibility of the big-name players who are too often kept in reserve for Test rugby.

The Welsh haven't taken to their professional franchises and don't like the Pro14. They're going backwards, pining all the while for a place in the English Premiership or a British and Irish League. It ain't happening.

The Italians offer little or nothing. The Irish use the Pro14 as a warm-up act for their real interest - Europe.

Five of the opening eight weekends clash with international stuff, so take a good, hard look at the stellar characters this weekend and next because you won't be seeing much of them in their club colours through the autumn.

Not even the name makes sense. The Pro14 only has 12 teams in it. That number might return to 14 in January. It might even rise to 16. It might stay at 12. Pick a number. Any number.

The Kings, whipping boys of the last two seasons, have been liquidated. The Cheetahs have been withdrawn.

In their place, at some point, will come the Bulls, the Stormers, the Lions and the Sharks and that will up the quality - and the TV cash, which is what it's all about - but it will only add to the feeling that Pro Rugby is a hotpotch, a tournament with no identity.

'Wilson will change the way Glasgow play'

Glasgow, for sure, won't be whingeing about the troubles of the tournament, not when there's so much other stuff to contend with.

Covid, the exodus of 15-20 international players to Townsend's camps, injuries. Leone Nakarawa won't be seen until December, it's predicted. The very talented Bruce Flockhart is taking a break from rugby for a while. This is a survival mission for these clubs.

Wilson will change the way Glasgow play. Remember how Scotland altered their philosophy during the Six Nations and went from wanting to play the fastest rugby in the world to wanting to be harder to beat, more belligerent, less likely to beat themselves with errors borne of ambition.

That was Wilson's mantra to Gregor Townsend when he was assistant in the Scotland set-up and finally it was adopted. Pragmatism is at Wilson's core. He'll want Glasgow to play with ambition, but in the right areas.

That repeated car wreck of Dublin in February is the polar opposite of what Wilson will want. Rugby players running up their own rear-ends near their own line is not in his coaching manual.

There can't be any research-based predictions on how Glasgow are going to perform, not when so many things can influence what happens in the months ahead. Covid will take a bite of them, that's for sure. It'll take a bite out of all of them.

It's going to be a season to endure. If there's enjoyment and success at the end of it then hallelujah, but in sending his team out to face

Connacht in Galway on Saturday, Wilson will be strapping himself in for the most turbulent ride of his coaching life.

Becoming head coach of Glasgow was precisely the kind of challenge he craved, but in the months since his appointment the job has become a whole lot bigger, a whole lot harder and a whole lot more unpredictable.

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