Dave Rennie: One of New Zealand’s most successful rugby coaches

I had the opportunity to sit down with Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie today at Chiefs HQ, and in just 30 minutes it was clear to me why the Chiefs has become what it has over the past few seasons.  

Super Rugby Pre-Season, Chiefs v Hurricanes, 17 February 2012

Dave Rennie is the most successful coach to ever take the helm of the Chiefs. Rennie coached the club to winning the Investec Super Rugby title in his first year at the helm. In just two seasons Rennie has taken the Chiefs from a side that the New Zealand public thought of as lucky to ever make playoff football, to a team that is expected to make the finals and expected to win the title. 

Rennie’s impact on this side will last for a very, very long time. 

Dave Rennie came into the Chiefs as the successful coach to lead the New Zealand U20’s to three Junior World Cup victories.

But despite the successes since arriving in Hamilton, the Chiefs in the minds of many weren’t as clinical in 2014 as the past couple of seasons.  

“The word frustration comes to mind” Rennie said when discussing the 2014 Chiefs campaign, where the double time defending champions were eliminated in the first round of the Super Rugby finals by the Brumbies.

But Rennie says the team should take heart from their season after clawing back into numerous games after being down on the scoreboard early on. “We didn’t seem as desperate as the first couple of years but we showed tremendous heart out on the field in many of our games” Rennie reflected.

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On game day, life in the Chiefs camp appears to be relatively simple and straightforward. An afternoon meet up and a feed, before the players go home before converging at Chiefs HQ a couple of hours later. Rennie prepares a team speech to read to his team at around 6pm, before the team catch the bus and head to the ground where from then on is game mode. 

There has been much talk about the signing of youngster Damian McKenzie, and Rennie has faith that the young man will be able to back up Aaron Cruden at first five in his debut Super Rugby season next year. 

As is probably the case with every interview Dave Rennie will do throughout the next year, I was quick to bring up the topic of world rugby’s most talked about player, Sonny Bill Williams.  

“You wouldn’t get a more professional player and he has such a massive impact on these guys” Rennie described Williams in terms of his impact on the team, “he is a phenomenal trainer” Rennie added, “he’s always taking notes on what he can work on and plans on how he is going to fit that into his training that week” Rennie said about the professionalism of rugby’s most talked about player.  

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It is clear that SBW has a major impact on the Chiefs unit which will continue next year after the superstar returns to New Zealand. 

Rennie disagrees with the negative opinions that follow Williams strongly.

“Your right about the controversy that follows him, but its media driven” Rennie explained, “all the stuff you hear about tall poppy is just total rubbish” Rennie added, “he doesn’t want special treatment either and people who make those sorts of comments have never met him” Rennie said. 

The future for Dave Rennie is certain for at least the next year. Rennie will coach the Chiefs in 2015, and while Rennie admits to having aspirations to coach the All Blacks one day, he says he does plan to settle overseas at some point in the future. “I think my next job beyond the Chiefs will be overseas somewhere” the coach said when addressing his future. 

Whatever the future for Rennie, he is clearly a coach that is one of the best New Zealand has ever seen.

Scenarios going forward for the Chiefs

Tonight’s match against the Brumbies in Canberra is only just the beginning, and here are the likely scenarios should they get the win.

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If the Chiefs win tonight, they advance to the semi final against either the Waratahs in Sydney, or the Crusaders in Christchurch. Should the Sharks win over the Highlanders, Aaron Cruden and his men will stay in Australia, but should the Highlanders win, a third straight semi final against Canterbury will be on the cards.

Should the Chiefs win this weekend and next, a potential third straight home final will be  at Waikato Stadium, but only if the Highlanders can win their games also.

Qualifying 5th in the standings, the road to the final is going to be brutal no matter what happens in any of the other games around the competition.

The Chiefs haven’t been the same team in 2014, at many times the on field performances have been a shadow of 2012 and 2013’s counterparts, and the history of the current season just doesn’t see Cruden and his men being able to achieve the three peat. But nothing is ever certain in sport.

But it must worry the coaches on this champion side because if the Brumbies are sleighed this evening, a red hot Crusaders side is waiting in the wings for yet another showdown in a semi final, but this time down in Christchurch, a place where the Crusaders rarely lose.

Match Report: Chiefs season hanging by a thread

The Chiefs have, perhaps unsurprisingly, continued their losing ways tonight in New Plymouth after being in a position to snatch a win from a much better Waratahs side.

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The Waratahs dominated just about every stat in the first half, holding much of possession and playing much of the game deep in Chiefs territory.

With the score locked at 3-3 after a penalty each way, a stunning break from Adam Ashley Cooper set up an easy try in the corner for Isreal Folau.

Handling errors weren’t just the problem for the Chiefs, but also accuracy, the returning Aaron Cruden failing to kick the ball into touch on two penalties. As has become the norm for the Chiefs in recent weeks, much of the first half was a comedy of handling errors, knock on’s and miss passes, turnovers in the wrong area of the field.

The defense was just as potent for the Waratahs as the attack, giving no opportunities for Cruden to feed any of the backs into space, causing a lot of hesitancy for the Chiefs with the ball in hand.

The Waratahs went into the halftime break up 13 – 3, with a good strong gasp on the game.

The Chiefs began the second 40 minutes with a lot more discipline than the first half, attacking more fluently and making line breaks thanks largely to Dwayne Sweeney.

A successful penalty gave the Waratahs more of an edge, but it was against the grain, with the Chiefs looking more and more dangerous as they threw caution to the wind in an attempt to get back into the match. Bundee Aki came off the bench and immediately turned positive intent into points, scoring a quick try after Cruden kicked the ball through into the in goal. The try was awarded, but replays clearly showed Aki wasn’t in control of the ball.

But given the state of the game, the Chiefs needed something to go their way, and they certainly took what looked like a questionable try at best.

The Chiefs looked renewed, and suddenly Aki scored again, chasing down another through ball, suddenly propelling the Chiefs to a 17-16 lead with just over 10 minutes to play.

This is where it all went down hill for the Chiefs though, ending the game with arguably the worst 10 minutes of rugby all year.

Yet more lack of discipline handed the Waratahs a penalty, to which Foley kicked successfully, putting the Waratahs quickly back into the lead, if only a two point lead. The Chiefs had time to score again, but the errors returned, and an awful defensive set allowed Waratahs captain Dave Dennis to storm past a lone defender, giving him a clear run to the line, scoring in the corner and putting the game beyond all doubt. The kicking was outstanding all night long from the Waratahs, all penalties and conversions successful, and when Foley scored on the fulltime siren, the score line had quickly become a blowout at 33 – 17.

The Waratahs winning in New Plymouth, and by a massive margin in the end.

It was the same old errors, the same old poor defense, and the same old lack of closing out games which, and it cost the Chiefs again this evening.

Cruden’s return to the starting role was very mixed, he didn’t have the best night with the boot, but the Chiefs had themselves in a position to steal the match late but couldn’t finish. Arguably, the Chiefs played their worst first half of the season.

Nothing can be taken away from the Waratahs, they were super in all areas of the game, Ashley Cooper proving why he is such a world-class player, and Foley being incredible with the kicking boots. The Waratahs are the class side in the Australian conference, and depending on how they go once Super Rugby returns from the international break, they could be the real deal and be a real handful come play offs time.

Is the season looking over for the Chiefs? Well, the answer is no and the international break comes at the perfect time for the defending champions.

There is a lot of work to be done though.

A Rugby Mad Nation

Why is New Zealand such a fanatical rugby nation?

Rugby is the national sport of New Zealand. We are obsessed with the game, and we love our champion All Blacks side. A long running stereotype is that New Zealanders are all about ‘rugby, racing, and beer’. But is it a stereotype? New Zealand is mad about rugby indeed, and we also have one of the highest rates of drinking and alcoholism in the world.

Plus, the racing thing could be true as well. The racing industry is alive and well here in Aotearoa.

But back to rugby.

The All Blacks, our international rugby side, are feared the world over, and since 2011 the All Blacks have been pretty much unstoppable, including racking up an entire international season undefeated last year.20140308_192807

Underneath the international game we have five stellar Super Rugby franchises stretching from Auckland to Dunedin, and then in the national domestic tournaments nearly every region and subregion of the country has a representative side. Underneath domestic level there is club rugby, then college rugby, all the way down to school boy rugby, and the favorite amongst little kids, ripper rugby.

When I was a kid growing up, Saturday nights were often spent in the lounge with Dad watching the rugby. Wether it be the All Blacks taking on the Wallabies, the Chiefs playing the Crusaders, or cheering on Waikato as they took on Wellington in the NPC, most weekends were spent sitting and enjoying the action.

Is this the norm for a lot of households in New Zealand? I don’t know. the fact that rugby was once played in the afternoon but has now switched to prime time viewing slots should help answer a large part of that question.

I mean, when did you last see the All Blacks play a game at 2.35 in the afternoon?

Nearly every time you walk into a bar  in New Zealand, a game of rugby is playing on the big screens as middle aged men and women enjoy a nice drink in the evening. I don’t think you could find a sports bar in this country that wasn’t playing a game of rugby somewhere.

Rugby is very important to us kiwis, just like football is to people in Europe, or Grid Iron (NFL) to those in the United States.

It is a symbol of our culture, and the impact it has on the country is huge.

Remember Cardiff in 2007 on that lovely morning when the All Blacks were kicked out of the World Cup? The whole country was in a state of depression, even leading to prime minister Helen Clark saying it was “a dark day for our nation”. The first news story that night, and subsequent nights after that, was all about the loss and why it had happened. Then during the World Cup in 2011, it felt like the entire nation was in party mode for nearly two months, culminating in the whole country rejoicing as the final whistle blew at Eden Park and our All Blacks were finally crowned world champions once again.

Personally that was probably the greatest night of my life.

Maybe it isn’t just rugby though. Is it crazy to think that sport is one of the biggest subcultures in the world? I don’t think you can say it isn’t, it is becoming like music or even popular culture. Personally, one of the biggest things that defines me is my love and passion for sport.

I mean, I love my rugby, but it isn’t the only sport I follow either.

Some people say that to be a true kiwi, liking rugby is a requirement of that. Many surveys over the years have backed up that saying, and that liking rugby is “an important part of being a true New Zealander”. In one particular survey I studied, only a quarter of those tested disagreed. Male versus Female rugby viewership in New Zealand isn’t exactly as apart as you’d think either, studies show that girls like rugby just as much as guys, in most places anyway.

What is clear to me is that rugby is thought of differently here in New Zealand compared to over nations. Kiwis seem to be more passionate, and it is passion which is evident in this current All Blacks squad because of their amazing ability to never give up. Take the game against Ireland last year for example, how in the hell did the boys manage to claw back into that game?

I think the All Blacks are as successful as they are because of the passion for the sport in New Zealand.

Regards,

Mike