‘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

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union - Kate Rowan

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

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