Recruitment in top flight rugby is one of the key planks in a successful club, especially with a salary cap to adhere to. I tend to think of it in three phases – bringing in the right young players at the bottom, signing and retaining good players in their prime, and – the difficult bit – knowing when a player’s career with you has run its useful course. As Scyld Berry wrote recently in the Sunday Telegraph, Surrey’s relegation from Division 1 of cricket’s County Championship was due to too many young and too many old players, and too few in between who were good enough. One wonders what the management were thinking, but I digress.
Gloucester’s recent financial results show how the club’s spending has a balance ot it. I once spoke to the late John Brain about the process of signing players and he made the point that you never want to tie up too much of your budget in one position. Look through the current senior squad and you’ll find a mix of signings with, ever the eye for someone not spotted by others, no fewer than 11 players brought in from Championship or National League teams. When nearly a third of the squad come from those levels, there’s some good homework being done.
The most lucrative route to Kingsholm has been up the A30 from the Cornish Pirates, but it’s not been one way traffic. While five players have joined Gloucester in recent seasons, two have gone the other way. Each has their own story.
Will James started the ball rolling in 2006, the same year that Gloucester’s Academy Manager Mark Hewitt had joined the Pirates as Assistant Coach. Already 29, James told me Dean Ryan had watched him play in a game against Otley the season before, and saw enough to pursue his interest. offering James a two year contract. Four Wales caps, a World Cup and 150 Gloucester games later James is now in his eighth season at Kinghsolm, and is currently going through the re-election process within the player’s body, the RPA, where he is currently Chairman. Arguably the best part of James’ career has come when some players are thinking about retirement.
James’ Director of Rugby at the Priates was Jim McKay, now the Australia attack coach. He and Mark Hewitt worked together and brought through hooker Darren Dawidiuk, who left Cornwall for Gloucester in 2009 after anouther scouting trip for Dean Ryan and Mark Cornwell. Little was seen of “Dukey” until his second season, but he’s now a solid performer with decent experience domestically and in Europe – and he’s still only 25. If you think Gloucester have had good value from Darren, then the Pirates have been equally well served by Rob Elloway, who, short of chances at Kingsholm, joined Pirates in 2007, and has been a regular in the number 2 jersey since Dawidiuk moved on.
While Drew Locke’s time at Kingsholm saw limited opportunities because of injuries and the good form
of those in front of him, the former Pirates centre (now with Jersey) did put in a word for team mate Rob Cook. Speaking to Pirates’ midea officer Phil Westren this week, he said no-one at the club has been surprised by the full back’s smooth adaptation to the Premiership. While at Nuneaton, Cook had played for the England Counties team coached by Harvey Biljon, who was then at Blackheath. Biljon moved to the Pirates in 2009 as backs coach and recruited Cook for his new club. Like James, his move to the top flight came relatively late, but has been no less merited as his consistently high performance levels have shown.
Increasingly, season on season, agents can orchestrate where players end up, and that was the case with the 2013 recruit in this group. Jonny Bentley. His agent had mentioned the Kwi’s name to Alex Brown when finding out Gloucester were looking for cover at outside half with Tim Taylor’s return to full fitness still some way off. Only at that stage, with the Championship season almost over last spring, was Bentley aware a move to Kingsholm might be possible. Brown’s awareness of player development also saw him recommend young lock forward Will Graulich to the Pirates as he sought a good first team opportunity after graduating from the Gloucester Academy.
For the record, Gloucester’s other Championship recruits came from Nottingham (Kalamafoni, Molenaar and Taylor), Rotherham (Monahan) and Pertemps Bees (Qera) plus, from the third tier, Tynedale (Harden) and, on the doorstep, Hartpury (Savage). Without exception, all can be said to have contributed to the cause. In global terms you generally get what you pay for in terms of quality, but there are still gems to be unearthed closer to home – especially, it seems, in the land of the Pirates.
Photogragh : Copyright http://www.zimbio.com