Gender no issue for experienced Barbarians coach Mather

In the first instalment of a two-part interview, Women's Rugby World Cup-winning fly-half Giselle Mather reveals what she loves about coaching, in both the women’s and men’s game.

Given Giselle Mather worked as a PE teacher while playing fly-half for England it was probably not much of a surprise that she was attracted to coaching when deciding to hang up her boots.

As the Wasps Ladies director of rugby says, the prospect of putting on a training session was “not an issue” for someone already employed to do just that Monday to Friday.

But it was the opportunity to get to grips with the tactical battle – without having the aches and pains of playing – while ensuring that 22 or 23 individuals pulled in the same direction that really hooked her in.

Asked what attracted her to coaching, Mather replied: “I was a fly-half and my love of the game of chess, the tactics, the game understanding, I love that.

“‘Where’s the space?’ ‘If I do this will they do this?’ ‘Let’s try this, what works for this group of players?’ I just love all that.

“The other thing that I really love is that rugby is 22 (players) in clubland, 23 international – that’s a lot of people.

Passion for coaching

“And the teamwork of getting those players all onto one page, all moving in the same direction, all loving what they do, all passionate about [it], I just love that.”

Mather, a Women’s Rugby World Cup winner as a player with England in 1994, was backs coach when the Red Roses lost to the Black Ferns in the final in Edmonton, Canada, 12 years later.

By the time she took charge of the Barbarians for the invitational side’s first female outing in 2017, she had returned to Wasps Ladies – the team she coached to back-to-back Premiership titles in 2003 and 2004 – as full-time director of rugby.

Mather led the club to a play-off semi-final in the inaugural Tyrrells Premier 15s season, and her side currently sit fourth with two regular season games to play.

But her influence has not been reserved solely for the women’s game. Mather worked with the Elite Player Development Groups at London Irish between 2005 and 2015, and headed up the club’s AASE programme as well for seven of those years.

Her role allowed her to become “a small piece in their puzzle” for a number of high-profile male players.

Gender not an issue

While at Irish, Mather helped Alex Corbisiero, Joe Cokanasiga, Jonathan Joseph, Tom Homer, Dave Sisi, Marcus and Anthony Watson and Johnny Williams – among others – on their journeys to professional rugby.

“When you see them (win) their first caps – I’ve only been a small piece in that puzzle and it’s important I stress that,” she said, “but it’s huge to see.

“Now, I remember some of the sessions, I had to challenge them, I had to coach them.

“When you first stand up in front of a new group of male players it’s (hard) but in my job within 10 minutes that’s not their issue anymore, they’re concentrating on what they’re doing. They’re not bothered that it’s a female asking them to do stuff.

“I’ve coached new groups where you can see it stencilled across their foreheads. ‘What the hell do you know’ and then they challenge you and you’re ready and you work them and you tweak what you’re doing and you respond, and before you know it they don’t (care).

“And that for me is why gender isn’t my issue. I coach and if I’m not coaching well enough is that because I’m a girl or because I wasn’t prepared for my session or because I pitched it wrong?

Knowledge not gender

“I would say it’s not because I’m a girl, it’s because I’ve not been prepared properly or I haven’t pitched it right or I didn’t know enough about where the athletes were at.

“It’s not because I’m a girl. When I coach a good session is that because I’m a girl? No, it’s because I know what I’m doing, I know what I wanted out of the session, I know the athletes, I can see when things aren’t right and correct them.

“Other people put my gender as my first thing, it’s not.”

Her break at Irish came after she met Toby Booth while the pair completed their Level 3 coaching course, Mather with her six-week-old baby daughter in toe.

“I knew I was ready to take my Level 3 at that time and just because I had a child with me who I needed to feed didn’t mean that I couldn’t take it,” she said.

Mather would go on to become the first woman to gain the RFU Level 4 coaching qualification and while still juggling her roles at Irish, she coached Teddington between 2008-12 and led the Antlers on a 63-game unbeaten run.

Such achievements have led to suggestions, in the past, that she could break down barriers for female coaches in the English Premiership.

Evolutionary period

“The way I look at this is, it’s not just about me in that sense,” she said. “First of all I need to be ready, I need to have the right skill set, I need to know what I’m about.

“That’s the first side of it but then that’s the same for anyone going for a job. The next part of it is the rest of the world needs to be ready.”

Mather believes that for it to happen the right candidate would need to find their own Booth.

“He didn’t give a monkey’s that I was female,” she added. “He saw that I could relate to athletes, that I knew what I was talking about and I could add value to what he was running. And he didn’t care.

“Now, we need that to get those first opportunities. You have to change people’s perceptions, people’s cultural ideas – what they’ve grown up with.

“Girls don’t play rugby. Girls don’t play football. Girls don’t play cricket. Well, we’ve proved that we all do that so the next step is ‘OK if girls do all that, do girls coach that? Can girls coach men?’

“And we just have to go through that evolutionary period. I’ve been very much part of that, my life’s been about that. Educating people that yes, I can.”

Girls Rugby TRC Cup
Women's Feature News Women in Rugby
TRC Cup building girls' community in south-east Asia
The third edition of the Singlife Girls Rugby TRC Cup was attended by teams from seven countries and its organisers have bold ambitions for the tournament's future.
Mitre 10 Cup Rd 5 - Hawke's Bay v Southland
Media release Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Match officials appointed for Women’s Six Nations 2020
World Rugby has announced the match official appointments for the Women’s Six Nations 2020 as referees will look to perform at their best with less than two years until Rugby World Cup 2021 kicks off in New Zealand.
The first all-female citing commissioner team at the HSBC France Women's Sevens 2019
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Zamboulis refuses to revel in lengthening list of firsts
Citing commissioner Danae Zamboulis discusses her career in rugby, from Greece to Dubai via Merseyside, as she prepares for the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens at 7he Sevens Stadium.
Oceania Rugby Women's Championship 2019: Fijiana celebrate
Women's Sevens Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
'It is the biggest achievement of our lives'
Sevens stars Rusila Nagasau and Lavenia Tinai reveal what being part of the first Fijiana team to qualify for a Rugby World Cup in 15s means to them and the impact it has already had on women's rugby in the country.
Netherlands and Hong Kong women's 15s
World rankings Women's News Women in Rugby
Historic highs for Hong Kong and Fiji women
Hong Kong and Fiji are up to all-time highs in the World Rugby Women's Rankings, while Samoa drop to their lowest ever rating after losing their Rugby World Cup 2021 qualifier to the Fijians.
A Try for Change
Women's Feature News Women in Rugby
'For us it's about empowering young girls'
Fatma El-kindiy talks to World Rugby about 'A Try for Change', a pilot programme in Botswana designed to encourage young women to pick up a rugby ball.
Fiji qualify for Rugby World Cup 2021
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Fiji qualify for Rugby World Cup 2021
Fijiana have qualified for their first Rugby World Cup after beating Samoa in the final round of the Oceania Rugby Women's Championship 2019 in Lautoka, Fiji.
Selica Winiata at Black Ferns training session
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
World Series selection quicker than Winiata expected
Rugby World Cup winner Selica Winiata will take another step on her officiating journey when she travels to Dubai and Cape Town in December.
Oceania Rugby Women's Championship 2019: trophy lift
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Black Ferns Development XV cruise to Oceania title
New Zealand convincingly stamped their mark as champions of the Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship after a comprehensive victory over Papua New Guinea, while Fiji and Samoa will meet again on Saturday to determine the region's Rugby World Cup 2021 qualifier.
Sylke Haverkorn
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Dutch women rebuilding under former test prop
A Championship winner in both men’s and women’s rugby in the Netherlands and a former test prop, Sylke Haverkorn has now been tasked with rebuilding the country’s women’s 15s team as the newly-appointed head coach.