Winchester Rugby Club have appointed globe-trotter Gareth Martin as its new senior coach.

Born towards the end of Wales’s golden era, his sport-loving parents christened him Gareth Edward after the legendary Wales and Lions scrum-half.

Since then, he has played and coached in England, New Zealand and Australia, writes TIM FELL.

“The coldest I’ve ever been on a rugby pitch was in Invercargill, at the southern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, and the hottest on the edge of the Outback in Queensland”, he said.

Martin has soaked up different rugby cultures like a sponge, and loved every minute of it.

At 18, not content with playing at flanker for Chester, he started playing rugby league in the summer, and learned another rugby culture from the experienced Warrington Wolves coach Russel Jones.

“These were still the days before professionalism, when young players like me looked up to the club’s first team, rather than Premiership and international players, as their role models. I could imagine nothing better than playing for Chester’s firsts”.

A Kiwi player friend arranged for him to to play in Otago. “The most amazing and formative experience ever - beyond rugby."

Two years later, he returned to play for Manchester’s first team, then in the equivalent of today’s Championship. He was a regular in their back row for four seasons.

At 28, he retired from playing and turned to coaching.

His decision was prompted partly by growing success in advertising as an expert in the fast-growing field of digital marketing, which led to the offer of a job in Australia, but partly too because a number of his friends in the Manchester first team had also decided to retire.

An Australian work colleague asked him to come to her teenage son’s club, the North Ward Sand Crabs in Townsville, and watch a training session.

“These 14-year-olds had all the ‘silky’ skills – pretty rugby with not a trace of dog in it. Winning was simply not on the agenda”, he said. “No wonder they were bored stiff. By the end of the session, I was the group’s new coach.”

When work took him north to Rockhampton in Queensland, he joined the Brothers club and the CQ Brahmans as assistant coach to Onehunga (Onnie) Mata'uiau, who had played at hooker for Samoa the 1999 World Cup.

“An amazing man from whom I learned so much," Martin remarked. “He had played at the very top level, always with a smile on his face, and he coached the same way. For him the thing never to be forgotten is that people play rugby for fun, even if they’re being paid to do it.”

Martin has all the badges a rugby coach can get. “But that’s only the start”, he stated. “It’s easy to coach a squad to play the patterns, but it stops being easy when they come up against 15 others bent on beating them. That’s when experience as well as paper qualifications start to tell.”

Earlier this year, Martin returned to England, and came to stay with his mother – still a keen rugby supporter – who now lives in Littleton.

One of the first things he did was to watch Winchester’s first team in action, seeing them lose to Havant by one point in the Hampshire Cup Final.

He was instantly hooked.

“I learned in Australia that silky skills don’t win you games: you need a touch of the mongrel too, and you need that overwhelming desire for victory.

"Those are the things I aim to instil in the players I coach.

“It’s about empowering the players; it’s about people skills like building the team ethos, nurturing leadership qualities, keeping a degree of constant surprise in training, so that players are always on their toes.

"Every training session will be different from the last.”

Pre-season training starts at Winchester’s North Walls Park ground on Tuesday July 4.