Above: The HOBM Colts with forwards coach Gregorio Estevez bottom right, after the recent Colts Division 1 Championship Final.
- By Adam Julian
“How I’m gonna make it?” Gregorio Estevez asked himself during his initial forays coaching the Hutt Old Boys Marist Colts this season.
The visiting Argentine is a serious rugby student boasting an international diploma in sports coaching, a Level 3 World Rugby coaching accreditation and a Level 5 status in sports nutrition, but all that theory could not prepare him for the early chaos at the Eagles Nest.
“Since my first days at the club I dreamed about leaving our photo on the wall of champions, but the start wasn’t easy at all. The DOR and head coach of the team left us a week before our first game. We played OBU and it was terrible. We got badly beaten and the coaching team didn’t seem to be functional at all,” Estevez mourns.
HOBM were in disarray with Estevez now accompanied by the relatively youthful Logan Ngatuere-Ongley, team manager Cath Faaeteete, and a group of players he didn’t know.
Building relationships and confidence would take time. HOBM staggered through the first round of the Les Mills Paris Memorial Shield in fourth place, but won less than half of their games.
“Coaching in New Zealand is quite different to other places,” Estevez observes.
“People here don’t like being told what to do and the players are much more hands on. Keeping things simple while setting clear goals and roles for the players and the coaching team is essential. In Argentina we tend to plan more thoroughly with sometimes less effective outcomes.”
An intense goal setting session was held before the John E Kelly Memorial Cup second round competition and a new team mantra was adopted.
“We came up with the phrase, empty the tank every week,” Estevez explains.
“I see a rugby team as an organisation of people where a clear set of values and efficient process are established to help win games and develop people to have a positive impact on their club and community.”
Slackers were cast aside and the Eagles started to fly. HOBM won seven of their next eight games to qualify for the Premier Colts final, beating Old Boys University 18-7 along the way.
The students would have the last laugh, winning the decider 31-7 to claim their sixth John E Kelly Cup in the last eight years, but a stunning transformation had occurred.
“I’m a forwards coach and didn’t even know the lineout calls at the end of the season,” Estevez admits.
“The players took ownership and it was one of the strongest points of our game. I’m very proud of what the boys have achieved. Personally it’s been a huge learning experience”
Estevez has enjoyed a lifelong interest in rugby. Like his father he joined the Jockey Club de Rosario where he was a determined flanker for 18 years. In his mid-teens, Estevez starting coaching juniors and developed an immediate passion for youth.
“I wasn’t a great player, but I love the friendships rugby create. Watching juniors develop and improve is extremely satisfying. Questioning and applying your knowledge is a great challenge. This is why I took up coaching,” Estevez reflects.
Estevez hit the road when he was 23 and has been a nomad since. A period of coaching in the Netherlands was followed by an 18-month stint in Spain when he guided RC Cornella to an Under 18 Catalonia competition win. Both assignments presented vastly different challenges.
“The level of talent in Holland is surprisingly good. Most of the players were locals and determined to succeed. RC Cornella is quite an important club in Spain and they were in a down patch. It was hard work to build them back up again,” Estevez recalled.
Australia would be the next port of call where Estevez was appointed development coach of the Souths Rugby Club in Brisbane. His roll was to improve and promote the performance of lower grade players. Estevez was able to assist four players who started the season relegated from the third team to play in the second team semi final.
“I found Australian English very difficult,” Estevez laughs.
Estevez was at Souths while Quade Cooper was launching his comeback at the club. Estevez found the polarising Wallaby extremely friendly.
“Quade was very generous with his time and humble to talk to. I love the way Quade plays. We have gotten better at taking risks in Argentina because players like Quade challenge us to do that. The Pumas are more exciting to watch now than what they were a few years ago,” Estevez enthused.
Estevez identifies Agustin Pichot, Agustin Creevy and Felipe Contepomi as some of his favourite players.
Estevez is the director of Off Side Experience, the first rugby recruitment company for Spanish speaking players and has written an ebook entitled Encabeza Tu Rendimiento, a study of mental skills and rugby.
Estevez is taking a keen interest in the National Under 19 tournament which commenced last weekend and will shortly travel to Japan to watch Argentina contest their first World Cup match against France.
In 2020, he intends to head to the UK to further his study.