‘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

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport | Rugby Union - By Fiona To­mas

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

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