GLASGOW Warriors began last season in robust health, or so it seemed at the time, as a run of 10 straight wins took them to the top of their PRO14 conference table. But, welcome though it was, that success masked an underlying malaise, one that surfaced at critical stages of the season.

There were still many positive aspects of Dave Rennie’s first campaign in charge, and it is no disgrace to lose out in the PRO14 semi-finals to the defending champions, or for that matter to end up as also-rans in a tough Champions Cup pool. But it was the manner of the 28-13 defeat at Scotstoun by Scarlets that rankled: when it mattered most, the Warriors failed to find their best form.

As he prepares for his second season as head coach, beginning with Saturday’s game at Connacht, Rennie is confident he can address that issue, as well as the deficiencies in defence that were highlighted in Friday’s 41-15 defeat at Northampton.

The New Zealander was only able to take up his post shortly before the start last time round, meaning he had no hands-on input at pre-season training. That is one thing that has changed this time round, with key technical deficiencies being addressed. Above all, though, Rennie knows that the crucial question is how to get his team playing with maximum intensity in the big games. Heroic victories in September count for little when it comes to the crunch. A squad as gifted as Glasgow’s should be able to rise to the occasion in spring.

“The key is to be the best team in the comp at the business end of the season, and we weren’t,” Rennie said. “We’ve looked at everything we did around preparation. There were quite a number of weeks off, for one thing, and ultimately we lacked intensity when it counted.

“We’ve looked at all our preparation from a coaching perspective – it’s easy to blame the players, but ultimately when you don’t front, we’ve got to look at what we did and how we prepared them. There’s been a bit of learning from that.

“Earlier in the year we were really clinical, made a lot of line breaks and converted them. That dried up late in the season too. We were still getting more line breaks than the opponents we were playing, but we didn’t defend with the same sort of intensity and we weren’t as urgent in regard to our ball support.

“We need to make some shifts around that and in the ability to build pressure. The big teams in Europe and in our competition are good at looking after the ball multi-phase and asking a lot of questions of you. We’ve put a lot of time into our skills set and into our contact work in defence in the off season. Hopefully we see the benefit of that.

“We understand that there are going to be times in the year when we’re going to be a little bit flatter, but we’ve got to make sure we come out the other side in really good nick. We thought we had our planning right for that, but clearly we didn’t.”

The fact that this season’s final will be at Celtic Park is an additional motivating factor for the Warriors, and co-captain Ryan Wilson believes the players already have that extra competitive edge thanks to Rennie being present in pre-season.

“It’s been tough, but I’ve loved it,” the Scotland forward said. “Rens wasn’t here for a massive amount of last pre-season but this time he’s come in from day one and it’s been skills, skills, skills. There’s been no straight-line running, the boring, tedious stuff which I was dreading, it’s all been focused on skills. There’s been a lot of rugby sense put into it. We haven’t been running for the sake of running. There’s always a ball involved.”

Having been with the team since the start of the decade, Wilson was part of the steady, year-by-year improvement which culminated in the Warriors becoming league champions in 2015. The squad has changed considerably since then, with Finn Russell being the latest member of that title-winning team to depart and Australian scrum-half Nick Frisby and American back row David Tameilau having just joined, but Wilson sees an important similarity between the group he joined at the start of the decade and the one he leads now.

“The squad that played last year, there was a lot of new guys, a lot of young guys,” he said. “If you see how we won the league, it was progressive: get to the semis, get to the final and then we cracked it in a final. People have to be part of those big occasions to understand what it takes. Hopefully we’ll be better for that this season.”

Meanwhile, Warriors centre Sam Johnson has returned to Glasgow after being assessed in Northampton General Hospital. The 25-year-old, who was knocked out tackling a Saints player in Friday’s game, will be subject to the head-injury assessment protocol before being allowed to resume playing.