Cornish Pirates coaching duo Gavin Cattle and Alan Paver spent time visiting Super Rugby outfit Hurricanes in May and it seems they made quite an impact.
Their fact-finding mission to New Zealand came courtesy of an invite from former Pirates high performance manager Chris Stirling, who, as well as helping the pair set up some coaching systems and processes, allowed them full access to their coaches.
Stirling has been the Hurricanes’ high performance manager since 2013 and after the Wellington-based franchise captured their first Super Rugby title last week by beating South Africa’s Lions, I managed to get hold of him to offer my congratulations.
Aside from sharing the obvious joy of his involvement in winning the Southern Hemisphere’s most valued club prize, Stirling was happy to talk about his time at Pirates and what he thought of Cattle and Paver, who are in the foothills of their coaching careers.
Remarkably, he revealed that Cattle had actually played a part in the Hurricanes success.
Stirling told me: “Gavin and Alan came down to see us at the Hurricanes in May and I just helped them set up a few systems and processes ahead of the new season.
“They had full access to our coaching staff and our guys were very accommodating, but it’s pretty easy when you’ve got a couple of enthusiastic guys like Gavin and Alan, who were very much liked by our coaches and players during their 12-day stay.
“They made a real impression and Gavin actually had a chat with our attack coach and part of what they discussed was implemented at the back end of our season.
“Gavin had spotted something we were doing and said he’d seen a team in Europe doing something that would add to it. They got some footage, tweaked it into some of our attacking moves and it suited our style, so it was a two-way thing as well.”
Stirling believes both Pirates coaches will go a long way in the game.
He added: “They’ve got massive potential and they’re a fantastic mix the two of them. Gavin is a lot more relaxed and measured, whereas Alan is very intense, but between them their ability to read a game tactically and technically is very sound.
“The best thing about them is they’re actually very good man-managers as well and they will get the best out of their players, regardless of limited resources in terms of player numbers or salaries.
“We gave them an insight into what we do at the Hurricanes and how we play, and I’ll be popping over to Cornwall for a while in October just to see how they’re implementing their systems and managing their high performance programme.”
Great news for the Pirates, but, as Stirling says, it is a two-way thing and he remains grateful for the part the Penzance-based outfit played in his own career development between 2009 and 2012 before heading home to New Zealand.
Stirling explained: “That spell at Pirates was massively important and I recommend to any coach in New Zealand that if they want to take themselves out of their comfort zone and grow themselves, go into an environment where the rugby is different.
“When I arrived in the UK I probably had a lack of respect for the set-piece, but I learnt very quickly that the set-piece is just as good an attacking weapon as playing with width and attacking on the edge, especially in the Championship.
“Having that knowledge and experience definitely grew me as a coach and gave me a much more rounded appreciation of the game. I’ve translated that into my work at the Hurricanes and winning a Super Rugby title is huge for this club.”
More good news for the Pirates last week was permission being given to build the retail park in Truro that will enable building the Stadium for Cornwall.
If any further proof were needed of Cornish rugby’s need for this facility, you only have to look at the performances of Team GB Sevens star Phil Burgess, who honed his skills at the Pirates before being invited to join the England Sevens programme in 2013.
Pirates have produced so many good players who’ve gone on to bigger and better things over the last decade that I’ve pretty much lost count now, but the one thing they all have in common is that they had to leave the Duchy to find fame and fortune.
Facilities are the key to retaining stars like Burgess and the sooner the stadium is built, the better.
Neale Harvey is an award-winning writer for the weekly Rugby Paper