‘The world must accept a girl can be a top coach’
Giselle Mather hopes her success with London Irish and Wasps Ladies will inspire other women
As Wasps Ladies director of rugby, Giselle Mather proudly wears a gold-trimmed black blazer similar to her male counterpart Dai Young. Something about this simple fashion statement is a strong expression of sporting equality.
Yet there are big differences in the coaches’ respective roles beyond the gender of the players they coach. Mather’s charges are unpaid and fall under the umbrella of the amateur Wasps FC. But she strives for the highest of standards at all times, as she explains: “We are expecting these girls to behave like professionals, but have to do full-time jobs.”
Wasps Ladies kick-start their Tyrrell’s Premier 15s campaign against Harlequins tomorrow. The Premier 15s is the new-look domestic women’s competition benefiting from an investment of £2.4million from the Rugby Football Union, which believes it is the next step in creating sustainable pathways to full-time professional XVS contracts.
Mather is a professional, having been the first woman to earn the RFU’S level-four coaching qualification. She oversaw the development of Marland Yarde, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson during a nine-year spell at the London Irish academy.
Of the 12 nations competing at the recent Women’s Rugby World Cup, only minnows Hong Kong had a female head coach – Jo Hull.
Mather does not hold back when it comes to describing the challenges aspiring female coaches face. “I did my coaching badges; 100 guys in the room and me. That is my normal day. It doesn’t faze me. When I was going for my level three, I had given birth to my daughter six weeks previously.
“I knew I was ready to take the level three and I remember ringing up the RFU, telling them that I had to bring my daughter because I was feeding. When you were doing your level three then, you did 24 hours where you stay overnight.
“So I said: ‘I need to bring her, if she screams, I will take her out. I appreciate if I fail as a result, so be it, it is my responsibility.’ The RFU rang me back and said: ‘As long as you are discrete.’”
The coach’s sense of humour shines through as she continues: “I was like ‘yeah, I’m going to go ‘woo!’ in front of a 100 blokes!’ But she was fantastic. I put her in the papoose when I was doing all the things on the course.”
Mather – who has three children – says that there are big differences between a young father and a young mother trying to make their way in the game. It is harder, she says, for a mum to make a 7am start for a coaching course, whereas the men tend to get more support.
As she balanced motherhood with the rigours of honing her craft as a coach, she needed to get the right opportunity. She coached Wasps Ladies from 2001 to 2004 before returning to the club a year ago. However, she credits Toby Booth, then working at London Irish, in helping her take her career to the next level.
“He’s the reason I got the job at London Irish, when I coached the likes of Marland Yarde, Jonathan
‘We expect these girls to behave like professionals, but they have to do full-time jobs’
Joseph, Anthony Watson, who were in my group. To get exposure to that, you need someone who doesn’t care about gender and, for me, that was Toby Booth. He was in my group on my level three when I had my daughter with me, and had to listen to me spout on about rugby for 24 hours. He was like: ‘She might be a girl but she knows what she is talking about.’”
A record prime-time audience of 2.6million tuning in to ITV to watch England’s World Cup final defeat by New Zealand suggests the women’s game is increasingly part of the sporting mainstream. The next step is to appoint more elite female coaches and Mather draws parallels with the progression from fighting for women’s suffrage to having a woman Prime Minister.
“There have been times when I have been so frustrated, but you just go: ‘I am knocking another brick out of the wall.’ As females, we didn’t have a vote 100 years ago, then we didn’t have a female Prime Minister. But, with each brick we remove, comes more change. Now, we have our second female Prime Minister. I was level-four qualified in 2008 but there was nobody else. Now, we are about to get Susie Appleby and Jo Yapp. That is brilliant. That is another brick gone from the wall. That evolution is a big thing.
“It is about the world accepting that a girl can do a very good job at this. It doesn’t matter whether it is a girl or guy. Now that you watch players with the Red Roses going to that level, it is: why can’t I coach to that level? The answer is: of course, we can.”
Twenty years after Mather was a World Cup winner, in 1994, Sarah Hunter was a pivotal part of the side that took the Red Roses back to the top of the global game and, despite not retaining the title, the No8 impressed with her leadership during this summer’s tournament, so it is no surprise she has her eye on a coaching career.
As a player and forwards coach with Loughborough Lightning, and hopefully thanks to some of those bricks knocked from the wall by Mather, Hunter marks a new breed of female coach whose main battles will be on the pitch.
Uplifting: Wasps Ladies manager Giselle Mather celebrates winning the National Division One title in 2003
Pioneer: Giselle Mather was the first woman to earn the level-four coaching badge