England’s Rugby World Cup 2021 campaign is still more than seven months from kick off, yet Amy Turner is already reaping the benefits of being part of the RWC 2021 Coach Internship Programme.
Turner was one of the first group of participants to be confirmed on the World Rugby-funded programme, which was designed to support the development of female coaches in line with the target to have women fill at least 40 per cent of all coaching roles at RWC 2025.
Since September 2020, she has worked with World Rugby Coach of the Year 2021 Simon Middleton and his Red Roses coaching staff, a period disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic but one that has been extremely successful for England.
Due to the postponement of RWC 2021 by 12 months, Turner has had to juggle the internship with her responsibilities as England women’s U20 coach.
Old team mate @cantwelll doing great things for @WomenBoks a good day joint training with @EnglandRugby pic.twitter.com/TJgmOw8NvN— Amy Turner (@AmyRTurner2) November 19, 2021
That, though, has enabled her to implement lessons learnt with the senior team at age-grade level while building and strengthening relationships to make the transition from the U20s to Middleton’s squad more seamless.
“It's been massively busy but productive,” Turner told World Rugby about her time so far on the Coach Internship Programme.
“The learnings that I've taken from the senior environment with England women have definitely impacted what I can deliver in my programme at U20s.
“So, in terms of tangible learnings, it's been really good for me to reflect and put something in that's meaningful to my U20 programme that directly has continuity or common themes from the seniors to help those young players who transition into that environment, [to] make it more familiar.”
She added: “My U20 programme is the first programme that I've headed up and run myself, and before that I was a police officer, so it was something completely new and foreign to me.
“So, being able to see Simon Middleton run his programme how he wants, albeit we're different individuals and maybe have different philosophies, actually it's been really good to observe and be privy to some conversations that are necessary and needed within a high-performance environment.
“Whether that be staff orientated logistics or recognising the importance of language within the staff group that translates into the player group.
“Being able to observe that has definitely given me a really good, meaningful insight into what it means to be high performance and how to run a high-performance environment.”
Being a part of the journey
Working with the senior squad has also enabled Turner to strengthen the pathways between England’s age-grade and senior squads as she built a greater understanding of what those coaches were looking for at test level.
Earlier this month, the senior and U20 England squads had a joint training session with Wales, while several age-grade players have made the step up to test rugby.
Prop Maud Muir was one such graduate, appearing in the back-to-back wins against New Zealand, and the defeats of Canada and the USA at the end of 2021, while flanker Sadiya Kabeya also played against the North Americans.
“We surpassed all our expectations of where we thought we were at,” Turner said. “We're still massively on a journey of building.
“So, to be a part of that and then rejoin the group for the start of pre-season to prepare to go to Rugby World Cup, it would really feel like I've been part of the journey of players coming through and being capped and then becoming regular starters in that environment.
“The relationship between U20s and seniors has probably improved massively, which has had an effect on our player depth chart.
“So, it's been really good across the board. It's built relationships, built channels between age-grade and seniors to be more established and more fluid.
“It’s also been such a positive challenge to have to manage myself in a way around flicking between observing, being a kind of follower to what's already being done with the seniors and then to come into a lead role with the U20s and put my ideas into practice.”
Showcasing the women’s game
Turner will concentrate on her role with the U20s for the rest of this season before heading back into camp with the Red Roses when preparations for RWC 2021 begin in earnest in July.
It is almost 10 years since she played her final test for England, a 23-6 Women’s Six Nations win against Ireland in which she scored her country’s match-clinching second try, and she admits the game has moved on since she was a player.
The former scrum-half was impressed with the level of planning and preparation that went into England’s end-of-year campaign. “What the players are expected to get through in terms of workload,” she said, “is unrecognisable to when I played as an international.”
She cannot wait to help the players reap the benefits of that hard work in New Zealand.
“It’s going to be pretty special, the Kiwis take their rugby very seriously,” Turner, who as a player suffered defeat to the Black Ferns in the finals of RWC 2006 and RWC 2010, said.
“We have been really, really fortunate enough to have some really great experiences as a nation, but perhaps missed out a couple of times.
“So, I think it's going to be really exciting and it's going to be massively wide open and we're going to see a level of a game that we've never seen before because of this professionalism being more and more profound within the world of rugby for the women's game.
“And, so, we're going to see the best showcase of the women's game ever and to be a part of that is massively exciting.”