Having left Belfast Harlequins in January, Andre Bester returns to his old stomping ground on Friday as his new club Rotherham Earth Titans take on Ulster at Ravenhill (kick-off 7.30pm). irishrugby.ie caught up with the South African recently.
IR (irishrugby): Andre, are you looking forward to your return to Belfast for Friday's pre-season friendly? Any memories stick out from your time coaching in Ulster?
AB (Andre Bester): I am very much looking forward to playing against Ulster in Belfast. The darkest day in the Rotherham Titans' history was August 13th of last year. The team did not turn up for their friendly match against Ulster (due to financial difficulties). This season marks a new beginning for the club, but to start it correctly, you have to right the wrongs of the past. We are repaying our debt owed to Ulster.
I've spent the past seven years in Ulster and Ireland and became very attached to the Irish way of doing things. My fiance is from Cullybackey and we try to go back there as much as possible.
Secondly, playing Ulster on a Friday night at Ravenhill is an experience that you cannot buy. My squad is young but very hungry - they will take this experience with them for the rest of the season.
I think the most outstanding memory that I have is from when Ballymena beat Garryowen in Limerick in 2000 on their way to the play-offs. It was a "cup final", winner-takes-all sort of match! Ballymena were written off at the start of the season, because I decided to go into the campaign with as few provincial players as possible. Working with players that had to answer to me and not the provincial coach, made it again a challenge to be involved. At Harlequins, I had the same approach and it worked.
A further satisfaction was the individual improvement of players that played and went on to achieve provincial and international honours. You do become a victim of your own success, but I believe that players will always remember, in their hearts, who has helped them to climb their Everest!
IR: You left Harlequins in the middle of last season, by many people's reckoning, a bad time to do so. But was the job with the Titans just too good to turn down?
AB: Last September, the Titans flew me over to Rotherham with a view to me taking over the reins as their head coachfor the Premiership season. Not convinced that Belfast Harlequins' players were quite ready for a big change like a new coach, I declined. I stayed loyal to 'Quins and the players although an opportunity like that might come along only once.
I then left Harlequins at the end of January. It was more a situation that 'Quins were in a position to bring in an outside coach and wanted me to work for a period with him. This was unacceptable in my opinion. I believe in continuity if things are working for you, and things were working for us at 'Quins. You only appoint and outside coach when you have failed - to turn things around, to bring in a new culture, new ethics, etc.
I believe in loyalty to people that have put the "hard yards" in during all those dark nights. There were several coaches that had worked with me for four or more years and were willing to take the team and club further. These people were loyal to the club, had the technical expertise and were able to keep 'Quins near the summit of Irish club rugby.
IR: You have since brought a number of players over from Ireland to Rotherham - Louis McGowan, Michael Kirkwood, Jamie Kilbane, Neil Hanna, Scott Donald, Greg Mitchell, Jarlath Carey, WP Strauss - over the last few months. How have they adapted to the club so far?
AB: The players who came over from Ireland are adapting very well. There are a limited number of contracts available in Ireland so it was a fantastic opportunity for all of them to join us.
IR: You signed a three-year contract as chief executive/head coach at Rotherham - do you see yourself staying on at Clifton Lane after that period? Or would a return to Irish rugby be on the cards?
AB: Like I've said, my fiance is Irish and returning to Ireland is always for option. I know Irish rugby very well, I know its strengths and weaknesses. I've learnt a lot being involved with clubs at the third level of a three-tier system in Ireland. The day that I stop learning is the day I'll walk away from coaching.
IR: Financially, has Rotherham, as a club, stabilized after being in danger of collapse last year? How did the club come to be known as the Rotherham "Earth" Titans?
AB: The club had been an inverted triangle - one big backer, and a massive wage bill. My first task was to turn the triangle around onto a wide base. I secured a main sponsorship deal with the financial company, Earth Mortgages. This is by far the biggest single sponsorship in England's Division One.
However, we've also secured the financial backing of several smaller sponsors, what I like to call "partnerships." A win-win situation between rugby and business! This is very much in line with what was achieved in my time at "Grafton" Belfast Harlequins. We are now officially known as the Earth Titans. The Earth sponsorship is like the deal done at Harlequins with Grafton Recruitment - giving them the rights to the name and ground name.
My main goal, off the pitch, is for the Titans to show a profit for the 2005/06 season.