Chris Paterson preparing to spread the rugby gospel in Scottish schools

CHRIS Paterson was the kind of child who rarely sat still, according to his parents, and after a career that sped through 14 years and latterly saw records topple like dominoes, the Borderer is currently soaking up information in New Zealand.

Retirement was never going to be about lowering a golf handicap for the 34-year-old, who stood down from international rugby in December and from the professional game last month.

Within weeks of waving goodbye to supporters at Murrayfield, he was on a plane bound for Christchurch and the first steps on a new career ladder. His new position has been described as a 50/50 split between ambassadorial and coaching, although there is an expectation that the two will often come together as he spreads the rugby gospel in work with schools and clubs through RBS’s work to grow and develop the game at a grassroots level in local communities, and works on the finer points of the game with pro teams and SRU squads.

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Right now, however, the focus is clearly on swelling his rugby brain in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

“I don’t think I’ve stopped since I got here,” he said, in a late-night interview with The Scotsman. “I’ve been taking notes every day on coaching ideas, pointers, games, methods, psychology, the lot, and my wee book is like the Yellow Pages now.

“But it’s been fantastic and I know that, when I get home and have time to stop for breath, I’ll find it so helpful to what I’m now looking to do in Scottish rugby.”

The trip has come through the involvement of the Macphail Scholarship, set up by the Robertson Trust in the name of former Scotland hooker John Macphail, to develop Scottish players and coaches.

The Trust liked the idea of Paterson becoming an ambassador for their work too, and Paterson is fuelled in large part by the desire to repay their faith.

“I never knew what I was going to do when I finished playing because I’m not qualified for anything, which was why I left the decision right to the end,” he said.

“Now I’m out here I am getting a real feel for what I can bring to the game and I can’t thank enough the Macphail family, the wonderful legacy of John Macphail, and the Robertson Trust.

“I arrived just over two weeks ago and I’m living with Tabai Matson, who is taking over as Canterbury head coach from Rodd Penney, who is heading to Munster, and it has been incredible so far.

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“I’ve met coaches from Kenya, Japan and South Africa learning like I am, and it’s intense. The first week we were in seminars, talks and conferences every day, going through game-plans, tactics, structures, psychology of coaching, management skills; everything.

“This week we’ve been working on individual areas that you wanted to work on so I’ve been focusing on a lot of back play, counter-attacking, back three work and up-skilling backs, specifically stand-offs.”

Paterson’s days are spent flitting between the course work, sessions with the Crusaders coaches and players, analysing and reviewing Super 15 games, and conducting coaching sessions at local schools and clubs. He has been along to Lincoln University and Sydenham clubs, where Macphail Scholarship players Gregor Hunter and Jonny Gray are playing in the First XVs and performing well.

“The standards are not dissimilar to home,” Paterson continued, “but the depth is greater, so there are more better players and teams.

“It has been interesting seeing how they do things differently, but also recognising that a lot of what we do at home, at club and pro level, is the same, which reinforces the belief that we’re doing a lot right.

“It has been fascinating seeing how little the Crusaders actually analyse the opposition for instance, compared to us, and how much more intense their training is, but then we play 40 weeks of the year and the Super 15 season is far shorter so you have to take it all in and then stand back a little sometimes.

“I’ve had good chats with Dan Carter and Aaron Mauger, had sessions with Crusaders youngsters, and even spoken with Mike Cron, the New Zealand scrummaging coach, about the basics of the scrum which has been eye-opening too.

“And all the time you’re being assessed and getting feedback from the course leader, John Haggert, so it is intense, but this is a one-off opportunity and I’ll have time to catch my breath when I’m home and start putting ideas into practice.”

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Paterson’s status as Scotland’s most-capped internationalist has ensured he has not slipped in among the throng of coaches in the way he might suggest, or like.

He was sought out by some All Blacks players, including Carter, piped into St Andrews College in Christchurch before leading a rugby session and has been a hugely popular figure at local clubs.

It is a sign of what the SRU, RBS and Macphail Trust spotted in watching Paterson working in the community in recent years; his natural friendliness combined uniquely with an aura that few Scotland players have attracted since the Grand Slam days of Gavin Hastings.

The Borderer shrugs off the comparison, insisting he is a straightforward guy who simply loves working with all ages when there is a rugby ball at hand.

But he is astute enough to recognise both the responsibility that comes with being given a coaching opportunity straight from life as a pro player.

It makes sense, however, for the SRU, helped by sponsors and trust bodies, to invest in ambitious young Scots rather than risk paying many hundreds of thousands of pounds to southern hemisphere coaches to provide improvements that history has shown to rarely materialise.

A further measure of Paterson’s widespread respect came this week when he was inducted into the Edinburgh University Hall of Fame in his absence, alongside former Scotland and GB hockey captain Alistair McGregor and Commonwealth Games shooting medallist Susan Jackson, having studied PE for three years before taking the tough decision to quit the course with a year to go in 1999 and take up a pro rugby offer.

He was genuinely surprised and proud by that, and insists that his driving force now is to mould his New Zealand experience with his own approach and play a part in creating a brighter future for rugby in his homeland.

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“There’s a lot to organise when I get back, but I love the idea of being able to work with different ages of people, different standards, from grassroots in schools and clubs to teenage players moving on to new levels and pro and international players. That’s exciting for me and I can’t wait to get back and get my teeth into the role.

“I know I’m very, very lucky to get this opportunity. I was fortunate to be given the chance to play the sport I love professionally and for my career to last as long as it did, and to experience such brilliant highs, and the support I have received from the Macphail family, and the Robertson Trust, SRU and RBS means an immense amount to me now.

“But I am committed to repaying the faith they have all shown in me and want to really make a difference.”

l Chris Paterson is an RBS Rugby ambassador. RBS, Principal Partner of Scottish Rugby, is committed to supporting rugby at a club and grassroots level. For regular updates on RBS Rugby support visit