Hands-on Wilson ready to return to rugby
When Danny Wilson was announced as Glasgow Warriors’ new head coach back in November 2019, no one would have imagined he would be overseeing the completion of the 2019/20 season, let alone starting the job during a pandemic and not being able to speak to his players.
“It has been a unique start,” admitted the new Glasgow boss.
“As a new coach going into a new environment in the middle of COVID-19, lockdown and player furlough I’ve not had a chance to do things as I’d normally do them.
“Dave and I planned to come in post Six Nations, meet the squad, understand the environment and identify the things that are important to Glasgow, but that was not to be.”
Wilson’s work for his new role didn’t start when he took the reins from Dave Rennie on 1 June. Post Six Nations, he spent a lot of time preparing for the Glasgow Warriors top job and getting things in place to be able to hit the ground running whilst still in the role of Scotland forwards coach.
Wilson said: “Prior to furlough I conducted a huge amount of research on the club both on and off the field. I held video calls with players and staff talking about Glasgow’s culture and environment and I spent time looking at what the numbers said about how the club play rugby.
“We want to be respectful of what has gone before while identifying what we need to develop further. There are lots of things we want to keep and a few we want to change and develop, but with all the players and staff on furlough it’s been difficult to get in front of the players to talk about the findings of some of the research we’ve done and to talk about a plan moving forward.”
COVID-19, however, has not stopped the head coach and his backroom team from making progress on planning for the future and preparing for a variety of return to rugby scenarios.
“A lot of work has gone on during this pandemic," said Wilson.
"It gave us the chance to do some really in-depth planning for retuning to rugby – not just to complete this season but looking ahead to pre-season and the 2020/21 season as well.
“I’ve been really impressed with the current staff at the club, people like our head of strength and conditioning Brad Mayo and team manager Kenny Brown who have done an enormous amount of work getting us back to be able to return to rugby.
“Up to this point we’re in a really good place.”
Wilson’s first priority in June was bringing his players on board with his plans for the club. He explained: “The first people you want to speak to about your research and plans is your players which has obviously been difficult with the current situation.
“Now, as we begin to move into a return to rugby phase I have been able to layout our plans for the future, both to finish this season and beyond.”
“Coming into the role the three priorities I wanted to get nailed down were staff, players and the style of rugby we want to play.
“We recruited Jonny Bell [from Gloucester]. I was really impressed with Jonny throughout the process and he did some great homework and analysis on Glasgow and the players. He is a really well-rounded experienced coach who has worked on both sides of the ball and it’s fantastic to have someone of his calibre join our coaching team.”
Wilson continued: “The make-up of our squad and style of play go hand in hand as one dictates the other. Glasgow are a top-four team in all attack areas, and we want to keep that attacking brand of rugby. We see ourselves as playing the fast exciting attacking brand of rugby that Glasgow are known for whilst building on our defence and developing our game management strategy.
“Understandably, we had to press pause on our active recruitment in late March due to the uncertainty that came with COVID-19 and lockdown. We have a couple of singings to we’d want to make, however, we will have to see how the future pans out and assess the situation we are in moving forward.”
Wilson is no stranger to the role of head coach and building a squad, having spent three seasons with Cardiff Blues guiding them to European Challenge Cup glory in 2018 and leading the Wales U20 squad to their highest placing and reaching the U20s World Cup final
When asked about his coaching style the 43-year-old said: “I’m 100% a hands-on head coach which means managing a coaching programme and being hands-on to deliver it alongside our other coaching staff.
“I believe in a shared leadership model. There are some extremely knowledgeable good rugby brains and good leaders at this club – I’ve experienced them first-hand at Scotland. They’re a rugby intelligent group and we will use that experience and intelligence and aim to create a successful environment.”
The new head coach’s first on-field challenge comes in the form of preparing his squad for a two-game double-header in August, against Scottish rivals Edinburgh at BT Murrayfield.
“It’ll be great to get out there and have rugby back on our screens," said Wilson.
"What a better way to start than a derby against an in-form Edinburgh side.
“Our players have been out of rugby for four months and we have a lot of work to do prior to those games to get the players back to playing rugby again.
“These games will be my first look at our current squad and will be great chance to look at our players and player combinations for the future.
“We still mathematically have an opportunity to qualify for the semi-finals and we will be going into these games with the goal of doing just that.”
One thing Wilson already knows well is the atmosphere created at a sold-out Scotstoun, and when asked what he was looking forward to most about rugby returning, playing in front of the Warrior Nation was high on his list.
“Every time I’ve been to Scotstoun as an away coach or Scotland coach I’ve loved the atmosphere,” he said.
“It’s a great place for the players to play and I’m really looking forward to being the home coach and having the atmosphere behind our team.”