Remarkable Rennie looks to school Crusaders

SCHOOLING: Chiefs coach Dave Rennie.
SCHOOLING: Chiefs coach Dave Rennie.

Dave Rennie: school teacher, publican and rugby coach.

The professional rugby coaching business is dotted with men who have abandoned their classrooms for the sports grounds and not even the uncertainty of a ruthless industry, which makes Minister of Education Anne Tolley seem like Mother Theresa, convinces them to return.

When Rennie, 49, who once worked at Fergusson Intermediate in the Hutt Valley, transferred his communication and listening skills to the rugby fields he no doubt knew, if he was to win over the changing shed, he needed to earn the players' trust, but be prepared to waggle the long stick or cull them if they under-performed.

Had Chiefs head coach Rennie felt the urge to ruminate on his previous occupation this season he only needed to swivel around and chat to assistant coach Wayne Smith, who worked a teacher when he played for Canterbury in the 1980s.

Fellow assistants Andrew Strawbridge and Tom Coventry also have teaching backgrounds, while one of rugby's most famous ex-schoolmasters is former All Blacks coach Graham Henry.

As a player, Rennie is remembered as a hard-running midfielder who represented Wellington in the mid-to-late 1980s, playing alongside luminaries such as John Gallagher, John Schuster and Murray Pierce.

Former long-serving halfback Neil Sorensen, now a senior manager with the New Zealand Rugby Union, recalled former team-mate Rennie as a solidly built player who could stand in the tackle, distribute, or set himself up as a target for his loosies. "He was a very direct, very straight-running player and had some pace for quite a big guy back in those days," Sorensen said. "He was also a defender, a bit like [former All Black] Sam Tuitupou. He had great timing when he made spot tackles." Sorensen also noted Rennie was a dab hand with the guitar and possessed a fine singing voice.

"I can imagine he still uses that [humour] among his own players, he could be a very funny guy. ‘Rens' would often be called upon to sing out the team song or even just sing to the boys. He had an incredible voice." Yet Rennie did not succumb to his emotions, rarely allowing himself to lose his temper or become flustered.

"He was very much a controlled, very stable guy. You don't see ‘Rens' get rattled very often," Sorensen added. "He was a very calm, measured." Rennie also knows how to pour a jug of beer, having owned an Upper Hutt pub called The Lonely Goatherd following his teaching career. It was in this region he discovered he had a knack for coaching.

Following stints with the junior and age-group teams he graduated to the Upper Hutt seniors and in his first season as Wellington head coach won the NPC title in 2000, with a team that included Jonah Lomu, Christian Cullen and Tana Umaga. That proved the pinnacle of his stint with the province - when Wellington finished fifth in 2002 he was dumped and replaced by John Plumtree.

Rennie returned to the Upper Hutt club and worked at former All Blacks No 8 Murray Mexted's academy before resurfacing with Manawatu in 2006 and winning the world under-20 titles with the New Zealand side between 2008 and 2010.

Prior to Rennie's arrival, Manawatu were muddling along but he brought some respectability back by developing locals Aaron Cruden and Aaron Smith and there were few grumbles when he was appointed Chiefs coach late last year.

Tonight he pits his wits against Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder.

A victory will advance Rennie to being just one step way from joining Henry (Blues) and Robbie Deans (Crusaders) to win a title in his first season of Super coaching. "His success hasn't surprised me," Sorensen said.

"He had immediate success with Upper Hutt and Wellington as well. Some of his best coaching, if you like, was when he was with the under-20s. To win those three championships was a great effort - he is a very clever guy."

The Press