AL KELLOCK knows exactly what it takes for Glasgow Warriors to achieve success at the highest level, having been captain of the side when they became PRO12 champions back in 2015. Now the team’s managing director, he is convinced that they can still be competitive against clubs with far bigger budgets – as long as everything is operating close to maximum efficiency both on and off the field.
A lot has changed in professional rugby since that memorable day in Belfast six years ago when Glasgow beat Munster in a final which was Kellock’s last game before retiring. The PRO12 became the PRO14, and is now the United Rugby Championship, with four South African teams joining the league in the season that is about to begin.
The quality of the squads that the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers can boast, combined with the formidable strength in depth enjoyed by the likes of Leinster, is sure to mean that the new competition is considerably tougher than any of its forerunners. Nonetheless, Kellock is sure that head coach Danny Wilson has assembled a good squad himself, and believes that some smart thinking in every department at Scotstoun can help the club be a contender not only in the URC but in the Champions Cup as well.
Being a contender is not the same as being a champion, of course, and the former Scotland lock is far too shrewd to predict exactly when the Warriors will win silverware again. But, four months into his new job, he has a very clear conception of what it will take from himself and the team behind the scenes to at least give the team on the field the best possible chance of doing so.
“It’s very difficult to give you a timeline on that,” he said yesterday when asked if and when Glasgow might add to that so-far-solitary title. “But what we can do is put the stepping stones in place to get back there.
“The big thing for me is making sure we have the sort of environment where we get the best out of everybody. We’ve talked internally an awful lot about a 90-percent environment, 90-plus environment. We need everybody on field and off field to be operating at that 90 percent plus.
“We’re never going to have the same budget of a Toulon or a Toulouse, but what we do have is the ability to get the best out of ourselves. If you arrive in this environment you’ll get the best out of yourself and we’ll give ourselves a chance of winning things.
“If we get everything else right, we have a great group of coaches and players. I believe the squad is looking very strong and we’ll be competitive in everything that we do.”
There were times last season, Wilson’s first at the helm, when the prospect of the Warriors winning anything of note appeared remote indeed, as the team suffered a few embarrassing defeats. The worst was the loss to Benetton in Treviso in the first round of the Rainbow Cup, a result that raised doubts about the coach’s ability to make progress with the team. But Kellock backed Wilson then, and does the same now, insisting that the four wins on the spin which followed that defeat in Italy were proof that things are heading in the right direction.
“Treviso was a tough place to be for everybody involved. What I saw post that was an incredible turnaround. It was an emotional reaction, but also a performance- based reaction, on and off the field, and Danny led that.
“Danny’s had a tough opening season, and I think he’s very much looking forward to getting back to some sort of normality. Now we’re not quite there – there are still challenges as far as Covid is concerned and it’s not going to go away this year. There’s an awful lot more that can be done as far as building that team is concerned, but what we saw at the end of last season shows we’re in a pretty good place.”
The return of supporters should make Scotstoun itself a pretty good place again in the coming campaign, and there is no doubt that at times Glasgow missed having a very vocal crowd behind them during last season’s lockdown. Having begun his rugby career playing for Allan Glen’s in Bishopbriggs, Kellock is acutely aware of the importance the wider rugby community has for the Warriors, and believes that the fans have a significant role to play in the resurgence of the team.
“I believe that when you play for Glasgow Warriors you’re representing the city,” the 40-year-old insisted. “We have to reignite that and bring in new audiences, make people proud of Glasgow Warriors.
“I want people [opposing teams] to not enjoy coming here. We will be the most hospitable team in the league and look after everybody, but we will make this a very difficult place to play at. A big part of that will be because the fans will be back.”