Europe has to be Carnegie’s target, insists ambitious Stirling

Chris Stirling.
Chris Stirling.
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Director of rugby Chris Stirling heads home to New Zealand tomorrow adamant that Yorkshire Carnegie can not only return to the Premiership but also become a force in Europe

It might seem a far-fetched prediction given they currently sit sixth in the Championship ahead of today’s final game against visitors London Scottish and have been away from the top-flight since 2011.

However, the former Hurricanes coach – officially appointed last month – has spent the last five weeks undertaking a root and branch assessment of the club and is only encouraged by the potential he sees.

The task of getting back into the Premiership gets harder each year they are out but Stirling – who has been tasked with that goal – says the eventual aim is now far bigger.

“The end goal is actually to be a top club in Europe,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“So, the Premiership is a step along the way to actually being a world-class club and there is no reason why we can’t do that.

“I came over for this initial spell basically with a view of getting to talk to as many people as I could, to understand where we were in our rugby programme and get a feeling of where the existing players and staff wanted to be.

“I was hopeful that I’d come and find a bunch of people that really cared and were excited by the possibility of progressing and moving from good to great.

“And that’s what I found. I saw that on the first night; I met the staff down at Bristol and the side ran out and were extremely competitive in that game against a team that is now back in the Premiership.

“It was great to see, be in the environment, in the background, observing, talking to different people... it just excited me.

“There’s a real buzz about the club at the moment that something’s happening.

“I’m reluctant to just say ‘we’re on our way to the Premiership’ as that’s further down the track,” he said.

“But there is a bit of a vision and plan in place now on how we’ll do that and there’s been a total buy-in from people here.”

There has been a reduced playing budget this season with the club admitting last year they were seeking fresh investment to fire their long-term promotion bid.

However, Stirling says he has been assured about the playing budget for 2018-19.

“Things are in place and I’ve just had a meeting with the chairman of the board this morning, then on to the CEO, about things like that,” he added.

“One of the things that I challenge the current rugby environment on is that we can sit and say that we’re not getting the financial support that we’d like at this very moment and complain about it or we can force change.

“I firmly believe if we create enough forward momentum in our image, and the brand grows in the region and county, that some of those financial barriers will actually take care of themselves down the track.

“Having investors come in and pump money into the programme is not going to get bums on seats, it’s not going to improve our brand; it’s up to us,” he added.

“We hold the cards there and by us developing all aspects of our rugby programme: community, academy, Championship squad – or soon to be hopefully Premiership squad – if we can nail that then the financial stuff will take care of itself.”

Stirling was the Wellington-based Hurricanes high performance general manager and – after three years with Cornish Pirates – also worked as the high performance talent identification manager for New Zealand Rugby Union.

Now heading up the rugby operation at Carnegie, with Jimmy Lowes as head coach, he feels ready to help galvanise them.

They have announced a clutch of new signings this week and yesterday revealed Ospreys prop Rowan James as their latest recruit for 2018-19.

Furthermore, five current forwards also re-signed. Props Marc Thomas and James Thraves, hooker Joe Buckle and locks Matt Smith and Mike Myerscough have all agreed to stay.

Stirling returns to England at the end of May ahead of pre-season training – ready to start putting his plans into practice.