Pirates reveal new investment

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The Cornish Pirates have revealed details of a major new investment and potential tie-up with one of New Zealand’s top rugby organisations.

A new structure for the club was agreed at a meeting of shareholders at the club last night (Sep 23), including the appointment of a new board.

Former club owner Dicky Evans and fellow Pirates shareholder Martin Hudson, together with New Zealand-based Cornish businessman Colin Groves and the investment company Tamahere Limited, are working closely together to recapitalise the club.

The initial phase of the agreement will provide the Pirates with investment, advice and support for commercial and sponsorship arrangements, business planning, Stadium for Cornwall design and management, and the introduction of further potential investors.

The second phase of the agreement, which has yet to be concluded, would be a potential high performance partnership with the Chiefs Super Rugby Club and Waikato Rugby in New Zealand.

The New Zealand connections are led by two rugby businessmen – Dallas Fisher, chairman and shareholder of the Chiefs, and Groves, chairman of Waikato Rugby Union.

Fisher is a former partner at the international accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand and has many other New Zealand company ownerships and directorships, including his role as MD of Montana Catering, the largest privately-owned catering business in New Zealand.

In the 1999-2001 period, Fisher was a trustee and CEO of the trust that developed Waikato Stadium into a new 25,000 capacity rugby and events stadium.

Groves grew up in Truro and played rugby for Cornwall at all levels, and was a vice president for 12 years. He has spent most of the past 23 years as director of mergers and acquisitions at Tetra Laval. He chairs or advises a diverse range of companies spanning IT, agri-tech and equity investment.

Both men are colleagues in Oriens Capital, a private equity company focused on rural New Zealand, based in the Bay of Plenty and the Waikato. Groves is chairman and Fisher is a member of the investment committee.

Stadium for Cornwall

Between them they will bring business acumen in terms of raising investment and stadium development; catering and conferencing expertise within a stadium environment, all allied to a top-class rugby franchise.

The recapitalisation of the club will pave the way for a proposed £1.5 million share issue to put it on a more secure financial footing in the medium term, prior to an eventual move to the Stadium for Cornwall in Truro, with the Pirates and Truro & Penwith College as tenants.

Fisher will advise on stadium design from a commercial perspective, to aid in building a catering, functions and conferencing business at the stadium and to build a sustainable commercial and rugby business plan to take the Pirates forward.

A revamped board will include Colin Groves, Dicky Evans, Martin Hudson and current board member Graham Stone.

Also joining the board will be Martin Haag, former Pirates, England and Bath player, and more recently head coach for England’s Under 20 championship-winning team; Martin Tucker, a director at  Truro and Penwith College and key partner in the Stadium for Cornwall project; and former Ernst & Young partner Paul Durkin from Newlyn.

Current board members Colin Hill, Leslie Eastlake and chairman Ian Connell have stepped down.

Connell, who wrote to all Pirates shareholders urging them to back the deal ahead of tonight’s vote, said: “This is a tremendous opportunity for the Pirates to enter into an exciting world-class partnership with new financial and commercial backing. I am delighted that shareholders have approved this excellent package.”

The new chairman of the Cornish Pirates will be elected by the new board at its first meeting. The club has appointed former A&P Falmouth chief executive Peter Child as interim chief executive, while a permanent appointment is sought in the next six months.

Commenting on the news, Evans said: “This deal will bring vast experience into the club through a global partnership that addresses immediate financial issues and paves the way for future investment and expertise to help us realise our Premiership ambitions – all in a controlled, financially sustainable environment.”

Groves said: “I would like to pay tribute to Ian Connell and the board for their agreement in helping to facilitate this deal at a time when the club has struggled to balance the books. This heralds a new chapter for the Cornish Pirates and for rugby in both Cornwall and the Waikato, and I am delighted shareholders have approved it.”

And Fisher added: “The priority is to build the club’s finances in the short term and attract further investment, and then look at creating a Stadium for Cornwall that operates sustainably with the Pirates and the college as the main tenants. Focusing on business partnerships and the game experience for fans will be a key element going forward.

“But what really excites me is when we get to discussing the rugby partnership. The Chiefs already have partnerships in Hong Kong and Japan providing rugby IP (intellectual property) designed to lift rugby performance for those organisations. The full nature of any potential high performance partnership is still under discussion and we look forward to a successful conclusion.”