‘Richmond have a rich heritage and are open in welcoming new people’
Mark Cadogan sets sights on restoring the club’s glory days after becoming the first black coach in the women’s elite game
If there is one consolation women’s rugby can take from having its domestic season sabotaged by coronavirus, perhaps it is that the elite game in this country now has its first black head coach.
Mark Cadogan was appointed by Richmond Women last month following the side’s relegation from the Premier 15s, England’s top flight, which was halted in March because of the pandemic.
His appointment was a welcome addition in English club rugby, a domain hardly revered for its coaching diversity.
He may have taken up the job in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, but he insists it was the pandemic that opened the door for him to take the reins at one of the country’s oldest women’s rugby clubs.
“It was really an alignment of planets,” says Cadogan, who previously was in charge of Harlequins’ women’s development team.
“The timing may have been out there. I knew a few of the personalities at Richmond and I’ve always liked them as a club. They’ve got a rich heritage and they’re open in terms of welcoming new people.”
That Premer 15s will no longer be operating a development league from next season also played a part in Cadogan’s move. His first job will be to rebuild Richmond – one of the most decorated women’s rugby clubs not just in England, but the world, with 25 league and cup successes, six National Sevens wins and four European Championships – following their demotion.
Cadogan fell into coaching in the same way most enthusiastic rugby fathers do, after being asked to help out in the junior sections at Rosslyn Park, where his two boys started out. His first experience of women’s
rugby came almost by chance after trials at Surrey Sports Park for Harlequins piqued his curiosity. He popped along, knowing the club were on the lookout for community coaches, but got more than he bargained for. “I was asked to run one of the stations for the trial and I was offered an opportunity to coach regularly with the team,” he says. “I suppose you create your own luck.”
As women’s development head coach at Harlequins, he worked closely with Gary Street, widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the female game, having masterminded England’s World Cup-winning campaign in 2014.
Street and former Scotland international Karen Findlay vacated their posts as joint coaches of the women’s senior side earlier this summer. Did Cadogan not fancy a stab at one of the top coaching jobs in the women’s game?
“It was too early,” he says. “Not having had a head coach role in a competitive, performance-based league, you need to earn your stripes, put time in and really hone your craft, so you’re comfortable in that position.”
His carefully measured response speaks volumes of the growing standards of top-flight women’s rugby. Cadogan has seen the evidence with his own eyes and is momentarily more interested in discussing Rachael Burford, the Harlequins captain, and her exceptional ability to pass off both hands at speed.
As a former Sandhurst officer, Cadogan joined the Army in the 1980s at a time when there were few black officers, but he insists his ethnicity has never been his main focus.
Historically, diversity has been far from a focal point at the Rugby Football Union, whose 61-person council has just one black member, Maggie Alphonsi. The body has committed to increasing the number of BAME members in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and says it is “determined to accelerate change”.
Cadogan says: “Success sometimes makes people colour blind, whether that be in the boardroom, in sport, entertainment.
“To a degree, when people perform well there is an element of people looking beyond just their skin colour.
“Are there enough coaches of colour within the elite game? The numbers would suggest no. As to why that is, that’s probably subject to a far longer, deeper conversation. It’s not something that’s solvable overnight.”
New ground: Mark Cadogan does not want his ethnicity to be the focus of his job