The build-up to yesterday’s Barbarians game versus Wales had all the drama. Under the roof at the Principality Stadium, a coach who knew the opposition inside-out coming up against a side until very recently they were a part of. Nope… not who you think, not Warren Gatland, but former Wales Captain Rachel Taylor leading the Barbarians against Wales Women.
This was a significant day for women’s rugby. Only the third ever Barbarians game – and the first time the men’s and the women’s matches had been played in a double header – 12 600 people were inside the Principality to watch the Baa-Baas run out a 29-15 victory against the Welsh.
For Taylor, who has played 67 times for Wales, this opportunity to help lead the Barbarians goes further to prove she is a coach whose stock is on the rise.
Last year, she became the first female to coach a men’s national league side – leading Colwyn Bay side RGC in a 137-year break with tradition; and in August of this year she was named the first female Welsh Rugby Union regional academy skills coach. Here, she will coach North Wales academy players alongside new RGC head coach Matt Silva and under academy manager Josh Leach.
This is significant for the sport and suggests a trend of the boundaries between the men’s and the women’s game becoming more fluid.
Taylor has taken a markedly individual approach to coaching, attempting to impose her style on a men’s game that can be seen to be stuck in its ways. Speaking to The Guardian, Taylor has talked about her perspective and the importance of understanding “the whole player”.
“I’m a massive fan of looking at the psychology behind sport but, interestingly, it’s something that internationally [in the men’s game] there has not been as much time spent on as I’d say is needed. There’s so much emphasis put on skill and technical ability, and player size looked at more frequently, but it needs to be the whole package.”
She suggests that the women’s game has a greater emphasis on the ‘why’ not just the ‘how’, and that this is most likely due to the fact that women have often played less when they were younger, meaning skills and approaches are learnt at a time when athletes are knowledgable enough to question them.
This is a great example of how a more inclusive approach is often a more thorough one.
The women’s game is growing in Wales: last year WRU said numbers taking up the game had risen from 170 in 2015 to 10 000 in 2018. With figures like Taylor making headway in both the men’s and the women’s game, they are sure to inspire the next generation of talent.
By Will Sewell.