Rachel Taylor: “It could be a world first if we do it right”

Former Wales captain Rachel Taylor is excited by her new role as the Welsh Rugby Union's first female regional academy skills coach and believes they can develop a world-leading academy for female players in the years to come.

Rachel Taylor believes there is an opportunity to build a “world-leading” women’s academy programme in North Wales.

Former Wales captain Taylor was appointed as the Welsh Rugby Union’s (WRU) first ever female regional academy skills coach earlier this month. One of her tasks in the multifaceted role is to create pathways for both male and female prospects in North Wales.

She has been buoyed by the popularity of community programmes in the region and is determined to give those women a platform on which to develop in senior rugby.

That is not something that was available at the beginning of Taylor’s playing career, when she moved to England to play for Bristol Ladies. 

“The opportunity with the women and girls is just something that we haven’t done before, so there’s a real excitement around that,” the “proud North Walian” told World Rugby.

“When I was younger and I was playing I had to go over to England to get competitive rugby. 

A world-leading academy

“For many of the girls, especially in the senior [Wales] women’s team, they are playing over in the Tyrrells Premier 15s, so I guess it’s trying to create an environment up here which means they don’t have to do that. 

“And I guess we’ve got an opportunity to grow and develop what could be a world-leading academy programme for women. It could be a world first if we do it right. 

“So I guess that’s the aim and obviously [to] make it sustainable as well, so we’re not just looking at rugby players, we’d be looking at developing coaches, developing referees, that whole part of rugby I suppose where the academies are just focusing on player development. 

“So, yeah, there’s quite a lot of scope. I suppose what makes it quite nice is it’s kind of ours to try and develop up in North Wales. So we’ve got a bit of leeway there.”

Wales’ northern region has not traditionally been a hotbed for international talent, but that has changed in the past decade or so with George North, James King and Jess Kavanagh among those to emerge from its pathway.

“Some of the players that we’ve managed to help over the years gone by, obviously, is a credit to the people who are around or were around,” Taylor added.

“I think we’ve probably been a bit behind the curve as far as the competitive element.

A shop window for players

“But I think our view on developing players and individuals as rugby players and as people, if we get that right then we can produce world-class rugby players. 

“So, I think it’s a different take maybe. We have’t previously had the numbers so it hasn’t been a rugby player factory but the ones that we’ve got we try to develop as a whole package and I think that’s probably where we can focus again with this new job role.”

As regional academy skills coach Taylor will work closely with RGC 1404, the Welsh Premier Division side founded by the WRU in 2008. She believes that the club has been a positive addition for North Wales, and is keen to foster a close relationship with new coach Matt Silva, who last week attended a training session led by Taylor.

“RGC has had a massive impact on North Wales. Just for the local players to have something to aspire to that puts them in the shop window to further their playing development is huge,” she said.

“Now we’re producing our own players which is hugely beneficial, and I think they bring a different intensity to it really and a different kind of pride around playing for the team and the region. 

“Our support has gone up and up every year and I think it’ll be a tough year for them this year in the Premiership but I think with the introduction of Matt Silva, he seems like a great guy. 

“I’ve chatted with him a few times and he came to watch me coach and stuff.

Our own identity

“That kind of close interaction with them is really key for us because we’d like to create our own playing identity I suppose and it’ll come from that senior entity.”

Taylor describes that coaching philosophy as “expansive, go-forward rugby” and she is keen to produce players who can “understand the game and the opportunities that are in front of them”.

As a former international flanker it will come as no surprise that the 36-year-old also has a big appetite for the defensive side of the game. But those more attacking instincts should stand her in good stead for spells with invitationals sides Barbarians and Crawshay’s Welsh RFC in the new season.

Taylor captained the Barbarians in only their second women’s match last March and preparing the team for a meeting with Wales at the Principality Stadium in November is another huge honour.

“The BaaBaas one is a bit of a blurry dream really,” she said. “To go from playing to captaining to coaching, in such a short amount of time, is incredible. Just the people that you get to be around in those environments, the stuff you can learn from them.

“It’s interesting as well just how much interest has come from the world, if you like, not just the players. 

“I watched the England game [and] I was chatting to some of the Kiwi girls after and just the interest that they want to play for the BaaBaas is just really exciting, I suppose and the chance for us to bring those players together. 

Transformative effect

“The opportunities have just developed and I think now with the Crawshay’s thing as well, that will only help the standard of rugby we’re playing in Wales - to give people another level of an outlet to aim for.”

The Barbarians’ match against Wales will form part of a double-header alongside a meeting the two men’s sides. Twickenham played host to a similar fixture with England in June when a crowd of around 18,000 watched the women’s match. 

For Taylor, the November date could have a transformative effect on women’s rugby in Wales.

“I think it’ll be huge,” she said. “Where it falls in the men’s calendar as well. Obviously after the Rugby World Cup, if everything goes to plan, then people will want to come and see that Welsh team again. 

“I think the BaaBaas bring a different audience, it’s an opportunity to watch some of the world’s best players play creatively.

“Men’s rugby is so structured now it’s quite a pleasure to watch rugby like that, and just for us to be at the Principality Stadium with a double-header with them and the women’s team is just a massive step forward for Wales, really.

“The profile they’ll get off that game will be huge.”

WRWC 2017 final: New Zealand v England
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Watch LIVE rugby TODAY ... New Zealand v England, RWC 2017
On Friday, rugby fans get the chance to watch the classic Rugby World Cup final of 2017, featuring the top two sides in the world, New Zealand’s Black Ferns and England’s Red Roses.
Get Into Rugby PLUS
Women's Feature News GIR Women in Rugby
GIR PLUS impact felt on and off the pitch
Noame Rabeni, a Get Into Rugby PLUS coach in Fiji, talks to World Rugby about the positive affect the programme has had on her and her students.
England v Wales - Women's Six Nations
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Accidental referee McLachlan hoping for RWC homecoming
Amber McLachlan took up refereeing as an antidote to a long-term injury but after more than seven years of hard work has set her sights on a place at Rugby World Cup 2021.
US Women's Eagles player Tess Feury (centre)
Women's Feature News Women in Rugby
Women's Eagles star nursing the sick in New Jersey
We highlight more members of the rugby family working tirelessly to help people during the COVID-19 pandemic, including Women's Eagles player Tess Feury.
Guatemala v El Salvador
Women's Feature News Women in Rugby
Guatemala and El Salvador make history
The women's teams of Guatemala and El Salvador played their first international match earlier this month, breaking new ground in their respective countries.
Rugby Europe Trophy 2020: Germany v Switzerland
Men's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Swiss build for a sustainable future
Rugby Suisse CEO Veronika Muehlhofer says there is more to the success of rugby in the country than a record World Rugby Men’s Ranking of 28th.
Filoi Eneliko
Olympics Women's Feature News GIR Olympic Qualifying Tournament News Women in Rugby
Eneliko standing up for women in the Pacific
Former Samoa sevens player Filoi Eneliko discusses the reasons behind her decision to participate in the inaugural Women's Sport Leadership Academy for High Performance Coaches.
Nathalie Amiel - HOF 1
Women's Feature News Hall of Fame Tournament News Women in Rugby
Nathalie Amiel: The 'country girl' turned Hall of Fame inductee
Former France international and World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Nathalie Amiel, who won 56 caps and experienced five Rugby World Cups as a player and a coach, discusses her incredible career in the game.
World Rugby logo
Media release Women's News Women in Rugby
World Rugby extends Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarships programme after global success
Ahead of International Women’s Day, World Rugby has announced an extension of its Women’s Executive Leadership Scholarship programme.
Aimee Barrett-Theron
Women's Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby
Barrett-Theron 'excited for women's rugby' following Euro trip'
South African referee Aimee Barrett-Theron caught up with World Rugby following her recent experience in the Women's Six Nations.