Sam Johnson and Kyle Steyn celebrate the win over Ulster. James Crombie/INPHO

'We're a better side, with better balance and a better understanding of what we're trying to put on the park'

Glasgow’s form fell off a cliff in the second half of last season, but they have learned plenty of lessons for this year’s trophy chase.

IT DIDN’T TAKE long for Dave Rennie to put his stamp all over Glasgow Warriors.

For a time last season they looked comfortably the best side in the Pro14, marching out in front of Conference A while stylishly powering past opponents on their way to 10 straight league wins.

While Europe was not quite as forgiving, Edinburgh finally brought their neighbours’ streak to an end in December. And though the Warriors did avenge that 1872 loss in the return fixture a week later, the front-runners managed to win just four times in their last 10 matches of the season. That fixture list was heavy on away trips, but a draw with the Dragons and five of their campaign’s six defeats was a far cry from ideal build-up to the season’s climax.

Last weekend’s thumping semi-final win over Ulster was in stark contrast to the way Rennie’s men limped out at the same stage and home venue at the hands of Scarlets last year.

Lessons have been learned. Now, after bouncing back from Champions Cup quarter-final loss to Saracens with wins over Ulster, Leinster and Edinburgh, they are on the verge of another 10-in-a-row, and achieving it this time around will mean silverware.

“It was good for us,” Rennie said of the period after their European exit.

“That part of the season last year we had already qualified top. It wasn’t the same sort of pressure on us. That’s not the only reason; I think we’re a better side, with better balance and a better understanding of what we’re trying to put on the park.

“We’ve generally been able to put pretty good sides out there. The pressure to front up and perform each week was important for us, knowing Munster had a reasonable run home, we still had to play Edinburgh, Leinster and Ulster.

“(Now) we’ve to build on what we’ve done, knowing play-off footie is tougher.”

Not that they made it look all that testing when tearing through Ulster.

“We’re a different side. We limped into the play-offs last year,” Rennie explains.

“We didn’t play European knockouts, so over the period of about two months, we played about four games or less than that.

“We learned a lot from last season. We’re preparing the players better. We may well have over-trained this time last year. The boys are training well, there’s enjoyment, competition and I think to win  silverware you need 40-50 guys preparing well.”

Adam Hastings and Stuart Hogg celebrate after Kyle Steyn scored their sides fifth try Adam Hastings and Stuart Hogg celebrate reaching the final at Celtic Park. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The absence of European engagements in this part of the season has meant the Warriors have a more staccato run-up to Saturday’s final. While Leinster front-liners will be fully battle-hardened after playing Saracens, Munster and now a second final on consecutive weekends, Glasgow had three weeks to ramp up for Ulster – a 50-point performance Rennie feels can improve with the adjustment of a few ‘cogs’.

“We’ll do what we’ve been doing in our training,” the former Chiefs boss said this week.

“A lot of it is about intensity. We’ve already had a good clarity session and we’ll have another one later in the week. We’ll keep things just the same as what we’ve been doing up until this point. So we’re not going to over-train. It’s just a case of being clear and doing what we need to do.

We also need to make sure we have a bit of fun, because that’s really important in a week like this. We’re excited.

“At this stage of the season, a lot of people get a bit nervous and play within themselves. They maybe play conservatively as a result of that. But what’s got us here is the brand of footie we play. I was really pleased with our attitude against Ulster because we really went out and expressed ourselves. We want to do the same in the final.”

The final, of course, is a home venue for Glasgow and Celtic Park is a stage this group of Warriors are determined to shine on. Rennie will take his players to train in Celtic Park this week ‘to get rid of the wow factor’ of Celtic Park and acclimatise his squad for a tilt at a second title in four years. 

“It’ll be so cool playing in our home city with our family and friends behind us,” says out-half Adam Hastings, whose rugby footballing abilities took precedence over his association football skill-set at the age of 16.

“It’ll be awesome. I’ve been to quite a few games there and watched Celtic play loads. The atmosphere is incredible, so hopefully a few football fans might show up as well.”

Leo Cullen with Dave Rennie before the game Cullen and Rennie chat pre-match at the RDS. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Leo Cullen’s tongue-in-cheek mention of support crossover between Warriors and Rangers grabbed plenty of across the weekend, but when it was put to Rennie he kept a more diplomatic guise.

“Our thinking is that we’ve got lots of players who support different football sides, based on where they originate from. We have a heap of football fans who come and watch us play because they enjoy the entertainment and that’s what we’re looking for.

“Obviously, we represent Glasgow and we hope that regardless of what support you’re involved in you’ll want to be there for what should be a fantastic occasion.”

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