Few men in Scottish rugby possess the presence or command respect to the extent of Alastair Kellock. The 42-year-old remains the only player to captain a Scottish side to major tournament success but he’s now thriving in a new role at his beloved Glasgow Warriors. 

Just over two years have passed since Kellock accepted the challenge of becoming manager director at the Warriors and his passion for the club is still palpable on the dawn of the new season. Glasgow successfully navigated considerable obstacles in coach Franco Smith’s debut campaign but it ended in disappointment with the heartache of losing to Toulon in the Challenge Cup final following defeat to  Munster in the United Rugby Championship quarter-final. 

Thousands of supporters travelled to Dublin for Glasgow’s first-ever European final and the deflation that emanated in defeat - eased, no doubt, by a few pints of Guinness - will now be replaced by quiet optimism. 

“The immediate mood was disappointment because the final two games didn’t go our way,” Kellock admitted. “We didn’t fire as many shots as we wanted, especially against Toulon. They are a fantastic team and it was a brilliant event, but we wanted to go out there and showcase our best. Reflecting on the season as a whole, it was great both on and off the park. We are very clear on who the Glasgow Warriors are as a club and our identity. 

“There was huge growth in being able to tell our own story and winning games helps that massively. We want to double down on that this season, get our personalities across and showcase the emotions involved. We want to get better on the pitch, win games and be successful.

“Franco is getting a huge amount out of the playing group and we have a fantastic leadership group. We have strong leaders throughout our organisation. Sport is binary and everyone wants to win so that, naturally, brings challenges.”

Leinster’s visit to Scotstoun coincides with the time when the spotlight shines brightest on rugby, during one of the most crucial periods in the history of the game. The World Cup in France has been a fantastic spectacle with some iconic encounters and the prosperity of the sport depends on captivating the increased audience. 

Thousands pack into pubs across Scotland during the Six Nations but interest, undeniably,  wains throughout the domestic calendar. The competition for people’s attention, especially amongst the younger generations, has never been greater with the increased prevalence of social media and rival sports. 

Whilst others ignore these factors, Kellock is refreshingly conscious and he firmly believes that Glasgow has implemented a strategy to flourish in the modern landscape. 

“It's huge,” Kellock accepted on the competition that rugby faces. “But we were looking at stats recently and the sporting audience on the whole is growing, but there’s so many more sports or activities for them to digest. 

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“It's massively important that we get the personality of our players across. They are proper heroes for these kids to come and watch and follow on social media so they can feel a close interaction.

“Now, we will still double down on the fact that actually, face-to-face is about as good as you can possibly get for engagement. We have four clans within the club. Our clans are out most weeks doing community visits - some of that's rugby and some of it's not.

“I’ll get we're nostalgic about it, I still remember meeting some of my heroes for the first time. So that face-to-face interaction is still massive. That will then get the click-through on that, I'm going to follow this player on X, Y, or Z social media forums. And then the pressure comes with the kids to say, ‘Do you know I'm desperate to go to a game?’.

“Our challenge here is to make sure that everybody who decides to spend their pounds coming to watch our team experiences a proper event. From two hours before, right the way through to an hour and a half afterwards, there's a proper event here where we want to have a phenomenal product in the park and I believe we're in a very good place with that. 

“We want to have a style that excites people and again, I believe we're in a very good place with that. There is a big push from us and our operations team to make sure that the event is as strong.”

One of Glasgow’s successful initiatives is Family Day, which arrives this weekend with a host of activities proceeding kick-off against Leinster. The Warriors have implemented several hugely successful projects to build a connection with their community and Kellock believes the move to Scotstoun just over a decade ago has been instrumental to growth. 

Kellock added: “It's been brilliant and it gives people a home to be at. We want to make it an incredibly difficult place to come and play.

“We won every single game in our regular season last year, unfortunately, fell short in the quarter-final against Munster, but we won every game up until that point, including the knockout games and the Challenge Cup. 

“It also really pleases me that we played in a style that excited people. We were entertaining, yes, but we were hard and we were tough. That's ultimately who we are as a club. The move to Scotstoun has been fantastic from a fan point of view but we also accept that we need to do more - we're just about there.

"We're working hard to try and get that through, to try and give people just a little bit more. Just keep adding to it, keep adding. We've seen a lot of people coming out when times are maybe a little bit tougher to come out and support the team. We're pushing towards 4,000 season tickets this year. We're in a reasonably good place for that.”

While the World Cup ended in disappointment for Scotland, a sense of pride remained for Glasgow, with 15 players participating in the tournament - with seven named in Smith’s starting fifteen to face Leinster. 

An abundance of world-class talent will compete in the United Rugby Championship and Kellock greatly admires the ambition and innovation displayed by the tournament’s organisers in recent years. 

“Glasgow had as many at the World Cup than any other club in the URC so that shows the quality we have at the club,” Kellock insisted. “The vast majority of the Scottish team will come back to play in this country and we need to protect that.  

“The players who are visiting here in the URC are amongst the best in the world and we will have World Cup winners within the competition. We are competing and beating some phenomenal teams on a weekly basis, so the rugby product is great.

“The URC brand growth has been outstanding. There are more internationals playing in the URC than any other competition in the world. That demonstrates the quality and the addition of the South African teams has been great. Some of the best players in the world will play at Scotstoun this season and it’s arguably one of the best competitions out there. 

“The quality of the product on the pitch is great and that’s replicated with the personalities off of it. We will always test ourselves against the best in European competition, but  URC teams are always right there. The URC has taken risks by being innovative and it’s reaped rewards. 

“The challenges of travel in this tournament have been fully embraced. We were competing with some of the best clubs, and beating them, last season and we will look to do the same this year.”

The World Cup finalists will have been decided before Glasgow kickstart their season. Seismic clashes involving South Africa, against Ireland and France,  have been amongst the best games of rugby ever witnessed

Portugal’s feel-good victory over entertainers Fiji captured the imagination of fans worldwide but there’s also been criticism over the structure and scheduling of the tournament. 

Whilst acknowledging some concerns, Kellock believes it’s been a huge success for the game of rugby: “It’s been a phenomenal event. The eyes of the world have been on it and it seems to have been delivered well minus a few roadbumps. 

“The rugby on the park has been great and I’ve been fully engaged. I love how it’s not just a tournament for the elite nations and some of the latter group-stage games have been fantastic with so much jeopardy. I’m fine with some games not carrying the same jeopardy because it’s about raising the profile of the sport and getting eyeballs on it. We are raising the awareness of the game in new countries and the Portugal story was brilliant. They received amazing accolades when they arrived home and that will do wonders for the sport in Portugal.

“Fiji were incredibly entertaining and people loved watching them. The disappointment for Scotland will be from not playing at their top level and putting Ireland under pressure. You need to rile the top teams and get them out of their comfort zone to beat them. 

“There’s been a lot of chat about the group stages but players won’t get involved in the bureaucracy. Scotland knew what they had to do but they were unable to achieve that. In terms of having three of the best five nations in the same group, World Rugby will need to look at that to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Glasgow Warriors kick-off their 2023/24 season at home to Leinster on Sunday. Tickets are still available - click here to secure your seat at Scotstoun.