Maria Gallo: a fearless ambassador for the women’s game

Former Canada winger and assistant women’s 15s coach, Maria Gallo, hopes World Rugby’s Coaching Internship Programme will help eradicate the misconception in some quarters that rugby is “a man’s world”.

A year ago Canada’s Alana Gattinger became only the second woman to serve as team manager at a men’s Rugby World Cup and first for 16 years after Louise Ramsay with RWC 2003 winners England.

And now Maria Gallo would like to see the same happen in coaching at the highest level of the men’s game, where females are currently non-existent, not because of ability but through a lack of opportunities.

The Argentinian-born, former Canada international is one of a select band of female coaches chosen for a new World Rugby initiative, the Coaching Internship Programme for Rugby World Cup 2021, which she hopes will act as a catalyst for change.

“There’s 12 women that are part of this new programme and a lot of us will be working with our current women’s head coaches, many of which are men, so hopefully we can showcase that women can also be part of a high-performance coaching staff not just at assistant level,” she said.

“Hopefully, it can open some eyes and make young girls aware that this is something they can do as a professional career and it is not only a man’s world.”

Speaking further about the programme, she added: “I’m excited to see what comes of it and I am delighted for the additional professional development.

“It is kind of cool to hear that I will be in New Zealand for the whole duration of the World Cup.

“Once we are on the ground in New Zealand, I suspect there will be lots of opportunities to see how a worldwide tournament is ran in terms of communications, marketing, game-day operations and tournament management.”

Always a part of my life

For the past 18 months, Gallo has worked as an assistant to Canada women’s 15s head coach Sandro Fiorino.

As a mother of a young child and a full-time associate professor of teaching in the School of Kinesiology at the University of British Columbia, Gallo’s time is precious, but she says rugby and coaching will always be a part of her life.

“Being a full-time faculty member is pretty demanding and so is being a parent, but I always want to keep coaching in my life, I just don’t know exactly to what level,” she said.

“I’ve always liked a lot of variety in my life, so don’t see coaching as my full-time job but I do like how it complements my academic profession.”

Having served two years as assistant coach of the Thunderbirds women’s team at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Gallo stepped up to the top job in 2013 and immediately guided the 15s side into the conference play-offs and won the sevens national championship. She was later named Canada West Coach of the Year.

Displaying the pedigree that earned her 55 international caps as a player, Gallo continued to impress at UBC before landing the job with the national team.

Now, Gallo refuses to put a ceiling on her ambitions in the game despite a busy schedule.

“I think this high-performance programme will help me build on my areas of weakness and, maybe, one day, I’ll get to lead the national team,” she said.

A fearless competitor

“I’ll never say never, and I’ll keep striving and pushing forward and if the opportunity arises, I don’t think I will shy away from it.

Gallo has always been fearless, as a rugby player and as a one-time bobsleigh participant.

“A (rugby) team-mate of mine at the time was travelling between Edmonton and Calgary, a three-hour drive, and said I should go along and bobsled with her,” she said, explaining her dual sporting background.

“I started going to practices with her and liked it. The Canada head coach was impressed, and I trained with them for a little while and got a season and a half under my belt.

“The training was great; it was so complementary to what I was doing on the rugby field – lots of Olympic lifts, lots of short bursts of maximum activity – so that’s why I think I kept doing bobsled as long as I did. It was fun touring with the team and going to a couple of races, there was no rush like it.

“But while trying to play rugby and do bobsled, I was in graduate school, trying to finish my PhD. I would have hopefully made the team for Torino (Winter Olympics) 2006 but I just made the decision to keep my studies and rugby alive; bobsled was something I just tried out.”

While nothing could match the adrenaline of hurtling down the ice at 150km/hour, rugby has provided her with plenty of highs.

From making her debut against the USA in 1999, she went on to enjoy 11 years at the top and appeared in three Rugby World Cups in 15s and one in sevens, scoring five tries in one match against Spain in Canada’s home tournament in 2006.

Rugby is a kind of family

“There’s not many YouTube reels on my performances back in the day but that seems to be one that is still be on the internet. Oddly enough it is the one that my students seem to catch. It follows me around that video which is kind of cool.”

Gallo was more than just a finisher though; she knew how to put herself about on the rugby field and get involved in the physical side of the game.

“I grew up with two older brothers and that kind of shaped me into the aggressive rugby player, it was kind of do-or-die as far as my two brothers were involved,” she revealed.

“I had a bit of a mean streak to me, I suppose. I did like to joke around in practice and have a good time but then, come game time, I just kind of put on my game face.”

Those brothers were introduced to their wives by Gallo through rugby and her husband, Dean Murten, an Englishman, has taken over as head coach of the Thunderbirds.

Rugby is never far from her life, in whatever capacity it is, and Gallo wouldn’t have it any other way.

“As an athlete, I was drawn to the physicality and the cerebral nature of the sport, and having to make split-second decisions under pressure,” she said.

“As a coach, I do like breaking it down and being analytical. One thing that draws me to the game is how complex it can be and also how simple it can be.

“And, from a holistic point of view, to me rugby is a kind of family.”

READ MORE: RWC 2021 coaching interns confirmed as part of one year to go celebrations >>

Last updated: Sep 21, 2020 2:49:44 PM
Photo of Joe Schmidt, Head Coach of Ireland, posing for a portrait during the Ireland Rugby World Cup 2019 squad photo call
Women's Men's News Player welfare High Performance Women in Rugby mz-advisory
“Bringing together the best experts to contribute to the future of a sport I am passionate about”: Joe Schmidt on his new role at World Rugby
Joe Schmidt is joining World Rugby as Director of Rugby and High Performance to head-up a newly-created department. Here he discusses why he’s making this transition.
New Zealand v Namibia - Rugby World Cup 2019: Group B
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby women-news-classic
World Rugby Awards: Vote for the IRP 15s Tries of the Decade
Fans from across the globe are being invited to cast their vote on the International Rugby Players Men’s and Women’s 15s Try of the Decade.
Photo of Scotland captain Stuart Hogg talking to his team after the 2020 Guinness Six Nations match between Italy
Women's Men's Rugby World Cup News Women in Rugby women-news-2021 RWC2021
Squads, form and fixtures: Scotland’s men and women prepare for international rugby return
Here’s all you need to know about the two sides as they build toward the return of the Six Nations, the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup, and, for Scotland Women, a place at Rugby World Cup 2021.
Photo of France captain Charles Ollivon following his sides defeat in the 2020 Guinness Six Nations match between Scotland and France at Murrayfield
Women's Rugby World Cup News Tournament News France Women in Rugby RWC2021
France hoping to build towards something big as Autumn Nations Cup and Rugby World Cup 2021 loom
Fabien Galthié’s men’s side will begin the 2020 Six Nations restart joint top of the leaderboard, with a home fixture against Ireland all that remains before the Autumn Nations Cup. For France Women, the challenge is to build momentum as the countdown for Rugby World Cup 2021 begins…
Céline Allainmat
Rugby World Cup Feature News Tournament News Women in Rugby women-news-2021 Women-news-coach
Coaching intern Allainmat excited by life on “the other side of the fence”
Former France full-back/winger Céline Allainmat is looking forward to a third Rugby World Cup in 15s – thanks to World Rugby’s Coaching Internship Programme.
Rugby World Cup joint host selection process
Women's Men's Rugby World Cup News Tournament News Women in Rugby mz-advisory women-news-2021
New reports help nations prepare RWC bids that optimise return on investment
Rugby World Cup hosting can generate up to £2.9 billion in total economic impact, while direct visitor expenditure into the host economy can reach £1.1 billion according to independent analysis of previous event hosting designed to inform potential future hosts of rugby’s showcase event.
Women's Rugby World Cup trophy
Women's Rugby World Cup News Tournament News Women in Rugby mz-advisory women-news-2021 RWC2021
Date set for Rugby World Cup 2021 Draw
Rugby World Cup 2021 Draw will take place in Auckland on Friday, 20 November, 2020
Emily Scarratt breaks French line
Women's News Tournament News Women in Rugby women-news-regions
Women’s Six Nations: What’s to play for
With the Women’s Six Nations 2020 set to resume, we take a look at what’s at stake for the competing nations.
Photo of Andrea Di Giandomenico,  Italy Women head coach, talking to his players after the 2020 Women's Six Nations match between Wales and Italy at Cardiff Arms Park
Women's Men's Rugby World Cup News Women in Rugby women-news-2021 RWC2021
Six Nations, Autumn Nations Cup and Rugby World Cup qualifiers: Steyn and Franco on Italy’s return to international rugby
Braam Steyn and a youthful-looking Azzurri side are ready to cause an upset as international rugby resumes. Giada Franco and her Azzurre teammates have it all to play for as RWC 2021 qualification looms. Here both players reveal their preparations for an exciting series of fixtures.
Photo of the Women's Six Nations Trophy
Women's News Women in Rugby
Take our Women's Six Nations quiz
How much do you know about the northern hemisphere’s premier women’s international competition?