Tell us about your own rugby career and how you ended up coaching?I was quite late into rugby. I didn’t start playing until secondary school and then for the local senior team at the age of 15. My dad had played local rugby, but growing up on a farm we were always involved with horse riding, competing in Eventing, Show Jumping and Cross Country, but mainly a sport called Tetrathlon. This involved shooting, swimming, horse riding (cross country) and running. I was fortunate to represent Central England for a number of seasons as well as GB, competing against the USA, Canada and Ireland at age group level. By the time I got to 18 I had to make a decision on whether to carry on being involved with horses or to start playing rugby seriously. At the time I was playing at Worcester for the colts and a little for the 1st XV, however when Bedford offered me the chance to sign a full time contract with their Championship side the decision was made. Just before I joined Bedford I had a season playing for Randwick in Australia. This was an amazing experience and although it was age-grade rugby I learnt so much. Not only on the field but also off it too. Living on the other side of the world, at a time just before mobiles and Zoom calls forces you to grow up pretty quick. Joining Bedford was an unbelievable time for me, running around with international players I’d seen on TV was just something else. During my first year we got promoted and my second year was spent playing in the Premiership. I then heading back to Worcester and played for three seasons before signing for Exeter Chiefs where I played for seven seasons and where I finished my 12-year professional career. During my time as a professional rugby player, I represented England U21’s England A and the Barbarians, and finished with 3001 career points. I believe playing 10 gave me a real interest in the tactical side of the game and the natural progression was to get involved with coaching, I started this while I was still a player, trying to get as much experience as I could, before taking on player/coach roles at Launceston for a season and then Taunton. I am now head coach for the Taunton Titans, as well as coaching the 1st XV at Exeter University and serving as head of rugby development at Blundell’s school. Added to that is my coaching and involvement with the School of Kicking.
We understand your sister Jo herself has an impressive rugby resumé, can you tell us about that and how that has influenced you? What was it like growing up together?Jo was also pretty late to rugby only starting for a local team aged 14. Due to me playing and with all the rugby we were watching on TV she finally cracked and decided to give it a go. It’s safe to say she got on pretty well, within three seasons and at just 17 she’d moved to Worcester RFC and also became the youngest player at the time to play for England. Jo went on to get 70 caps which included three World Cups which included captaining England to a World Cup Final, a Grand Slam and a 7’s World Cup. The one thing I would say is it that it didn’t come easy or just happen for Jo, she worked unbelievably hard to achieve what she did. Growing up we had our moments like most siblings do, but there was always a real willingness to help each other when it came to training and practice. As we’ve got older, I’d say we’ve both got closer. Jo now coaches at Worcester having coached Exeter University Ladies and England ladies U20’s, so we often catch up and talk through ideas. We were both unbelievably lucky to have parents who supported us in whatever we decided to do, I’d hate to guess the number of miles my parents have travelled, firstly lugging us around the country and then traveling to watch us play, even now Dad comes and watches the teams that we coach. They were never pushy, but would do anything to support us and it’s safe to say a lot of our success playing and coaching can be credited to the support we received from our parents.
How did you become involved in the women’s game and which teams have you coached so far?Having watched Jo and my other sister Lorna play rugby right from the start, I always had an interest in ladies’ rugby based on what both my sisters were doing and achieving. Unfortunately Lorna had to finish playing early due to an injury. I had a couple of seasons when I was also playing at Worcester and I would go along and help out at sessions. Since then I’ve done quite a few guest sessions for ladies’ teams. I’ve also worked with Exeter University Ladies for the last few seasons, although mainly with their kicking. I’ve also been involved with the England Women’s U20’s as a kicking coach for the past five seasons.
How have you found coaching girls?I’ve always enjoyed coaching girls, they bring so much energy and excitement to the sessions, and a genuine willingness to learn. I’ve also found that girls are always so grateful for any help that you’re able to give them.
Do female rugby players have different biomechanics to men and how does that impact upon kicking?Personally I don’t think that there is a great deal of difference. While working with Lagi Tuima at Exeter University we did a lot of work on technique and kicking with body weight. Within a few months she was kicking goals from 50m, so it can be done. I think traditionally girls don’t tend to kick a ball around as much as say the boys, who from a young age play a lot of football. So for boys as they get older kicking can feel slightly more natural, meaning they are far more likely to have a go. If you watch a group of boys turning up for training, what do they do straight away? Start kicking a ball around, but that’s not always the case with girls. I think now that we are starting to see more girls kick from an early age, it will give them more confidence as they get older and we’ll see the standard of kicking in the ladies’ game go up. Six years ago during my first session with the England Women’s U20’s I asked, “who here kicks?” and no one put their hand up. Now when we go into camp all the backs can kick out of hand, and it’s an area they are all expected to work on.
Who are your stand-out international female rugby kickers right now?I think the obvious choice is England’s Emily Scarratt. Her recent form for England was awesome, technically she’s improving all the time, her attitude to learning and her commitment to work hard is what makes her so successful as a kicker. She is also one of our coaches at the School of Kicking. I’d say for me she’s the perfect role model.
Kicking has traditionally been seen as a weakness of the women’s game. Why do you think that is and how can we change it?I think it’s been highlighted in the ladies’ game, the lack of girls who learnt how to kick growing up, only a few girls would really put in the practice, so when it came to matches the lack of kicking options would mean your kicking game would be slightly more limited. At the School of Kicking we’re working really hard to support girls learning to kick and to get more girls out there kicking at a younger age, so as they get older the idea of kicking in a game isn’t so daunting.
Women’s rugby seems to attract a lot of criticism and trolling online. What is your reaction to that and what would you say to young girls who read those comments?Personally I think it’s disgusting. I really don’t understand the reason these people feel the need to comment the way they do. I think you’ve got to be a pretty sad to wake up and think, “I know what I’ll do today, I’ll be derogatory towards women's sport”. I have a son and a daughter who are both into sport and although social media can be great, it can also be a very poisonous place. My advice would be not to take any notice of a loser who hides behind a fake name, you know for a fact they wouldn’t say what they say if they were face-to-face with anyone. There are so many awesome role models in the ladies’ game and so many good people involved with it, that you’re never far away from someone that cares and would help and support you if you needed it.
Tell us why you’re a fan of women’s rugby and why it’s important the women’s game has male champions like yourself to support it?Having two sisters that played rugby and a daughter who is massively into sport, I really appreciate the effort that girls put in and how hard they work. Sport is for everyone, and women should be given the same opportunities to showcase what they can do. Certainly at the School of Kicking we’re working hard to promote girls’ rugby and to get more girls out there kicking. Having good coaches and role models like Emily and Katy help with that, and we’re already looking to increase the number of female kicking coaches we have. Yes the men’s game is bigger at the moment, but ladies’ sport and especially rugby is evolving very quickly which is awesome, and very exciting. I think women’s sport in the future is only going to get bigger and bigger due to all the good people, male and female, that are involved with it and that support it.