World Rugby recently published a toolkit to help increase the number of women coaches.
According to a 2017 survey led by Carol Isherwood, one of England’s great founding figures, only one woman was in charge of a national side, Jo Hull (Hong Kong).
But since then we can add Sylke Haverkorn (Netherlands) and Leslie McKenzie (Japan). Annick Hayraud is the manager of the French squad; Samuel Cherouk is the day-to-day head coach. In a parallel case USA Rugby appointed Emilie Bydwell as General Manager for women’s high performance In 2018. Here again a man is head coach, Rob Cain.
Should we be surprised by this balance of power? Perhaps not. Red Roses have been heard to say ‘We don’t mind who is in charge so long as they’re the best.’
And people like Geoff Richards, Gary Street and Simon Middleton can safely count themselves amongst the best. But when the next choice for England comes, who might get the job?
The leading figures amongst female coaches in England include three former internationals: Jo Yapp (70 caps), Giselle Mather (34 caps) and Susie Appleby (65 caps).
Yapp ran the highly successful England Under 20 programme up to last year, led an equally successful team at Exeter University (BUCS champions), then rescued Worcester Warriors from the slough of despond this past season. Their survival into a new TP15s era is largely thanks to her input. If a player as experienced as Lydia Thompson can say she’s loving life now Yapp has taken over at Sixways, you can sense the effect she achieves. She has been spotted in the England management box at test matches too.
Mather has a long and distinguished CV. Currently the Director of Rugby at Wasps, she has been backs coach to the England team, coached the U20s to three unbeaten seasons, coached Teddington Men’s XV to a run of 62 unbeaten games, spent over 10 years at London Irish Academy, and brought two Premiership titles to Wasps in an earlier existence with her club. To cap a remarkable career she was invited to coach the very first Women’s Barbarians side in 2017.
Appleby was assistant coach to the England 7s team before taking over the Gloucester-Hartpury programme. Her brief: to bring them up to Tyrrells standards in the very short span of two years. She has overseen the progress to England colours of Hartpury youngsters like Zoe Aldcroft. Ellie Kildunne, Kelly Smith and Mia Venner, plus many more to U20 level. Since then she has been chosen to build a women’s team at Exeter Chiefs to take on the best in the land.
Would any of these three – let alone other deserving women – be asked to take over England duties when the time comes?
There is absolutely no reason why not. But it’s a sign of the slow progress on this front that the WR toolkit was found to be necessary. Perhaps there is still a credibility gap present in some minds. The one job that is up for grabs on the home front is the England forwards coach. Richard Blaze left recently to move to Wasps at the Ricoh, Coventry. It will be fascinating to see who wins this plum job. Will the winning candidate be a man once again?
In the past year there has been a dramatic increase in the use of women referees at international level, both the 2019 Super Series and the 2020 Six Nations were entirely in their hands. This other arm of rugby officialdom has been slower to take shape.