JULIE PATERSON is easily the Welsh Rugby Union’s longest serving senior figure – having been appointed to its inaugural executive board 12 years ago as Head of Compliance and, since, moving on to a second executive position as Head of Rugby Operations in 2015.
She has walked the corridors of power at Welsh Rugby’s headquarters in a variety of different roles over three decades but, still only 47-years-old, she is as enthusiastic as she has ever been about the future of our national game.
Speaking during a period of rapid modernisation for Welsh Rugby and on International Women’s Day, she is confident the first entirely elected female Board member will be voted in by WRU member clubs within the next two years – joining Aileen Phillips who was appointed as a non-elected director in 2015 – in what will be a ‘watershed moment’ for the game.
“There is wide acceptance from our clubs and the Board that it should be the best person for the job regardless,” says Ms Paterson, who was appointed to the first executive board in 2005.
“I think in the next 18 months to two years we will see our first female board director elected by the clubs. We are not about token gestures when it comes to encouraging women to step forward in our game, but we know that there are great women working out in the clubs.
“We work with them all the time, and it’s just about making sure we encourage them to have the courage to take that one step forward and give it a go.”
Her own story would inspire many to do just that. In the 90s she admits she was very much a ‘woman in a man’s world’, but growing up in rugby-mad Cardiff household with her parents, Cliff and Angela, three brothers, Neil, Gareth and Michael – and a grand-father Ted John, who was an archetypal Arms Park club man – she has never felt out of place.
“I don’t think anybody realised that the WRU was the first Union to have a woman on its executive staff,” she says.
“We were the first Union to take that step, other unions have moved that way now, the RFU and the French, but when I was first on the exec board there were no other women at that level in rugby.
“I was an anomaly, I’d turn up to ERC (European Rugby Cup) meetings and they’d think I was the interpreter. I find it quite entertaining sometimes to see those who have known me for a really long time, watch as someone new, who hasn’t met me before, tries and work out what part I’m going to play in the meeting.
“Then you walk into the room and everyone sits down behind their microphones and I sit down behind ‘Welsh Rugby’ and you see it dawn on the faces that I am not the interpreter or the caterer – I get quite a good laugh out of that and then we all get on with business.”
Ms Paterson makes no apology for a forthright attitude, in the right context, in fact she makes an attribute out of it and would advise and positively encourage any woman wishing to track her footsteps to follow suit.
Personally she puts success down to a sense of self-confidence instilled in her at an early age and whilst she is strident in her view that women should – and will – have equal opportunities to men when it comes to joining a modern, forward thinking Welsh Rugby Union, she is firmly against any kind of positive discrimination as part of the process.
WOMEN IN RUGBY WAITING IN THE WINGS
“I’m not into quotas.” she continued, “What we are saying is that it’s about providing the opportunity to women in equal measure.
“I don’t think anyone is entitled to anything in life, you have to work for it, but the opportunity should be there for everyone.
“We’ve advertised for quite a few staffing roles over the last few years, everyone’s been allowed to apply and it’s about the best people for the job. If that person is a man then there is no issue. If the best person for the job is a woman and a man gets the job then I would have an issue.
“I never applied for promotion, not once, but I would still be doing things the same way if I was still finance manager. Not in a million years did I ever envisage I would be at executive board level. Being the only girl with three brothers, my parents both had the same attitude on day one, ‘she is no different to the boys’.
“I never thought I was going to be doing what I’m doing now, but that is something that has stuck with me and stood me in good stead in the wider world. You can’t be precious, you can’t be getting offended when you turn up to somewhere and they think you’re bringing in the catering, those things can be moved passed quickly.”
YOU CAN EARN YOUR STRIPES IN DIFFERENT WAYS
She has two daughters, Olivia who is 20 and studying law at University in Leicester and Jessica, 24, who is an architect.
Given her own experience and her current knowledge of the WRU’s vision for the future, would she ask her own daughters to get involved with Welsh rugby and what sage advice would she offer?
“Absolutely,” she says, “We have to be careful that we don’t put women off getting involved in the game just because they may not have played.
“We’ve got some really good women working throughout our clubs. Aberdare and Mold are two great examples where women are at the centre of the clubs and they are very much involved in every aspect of managing things.
“There’s two different things, there’s pushing participation – and I agree everyone should be given the same opportunities, boys or girls – but I also think that women getting involved in the game, regardless of whether they played or not, is something we need to concentrate more on and indeed we are, because you can earn your stripes in different ways.
“You have to be in it to change it and don’t ever think that you are not good enough to put yourself forward. It is about backing yourself and just having the courage of your convictions.”
So how did one of the most powerful women in Welsh sport arrive in this position, how has she stayed so long and what are the attributes that will allow others to step out of the shadows they may be in at club level, or elsewhere, and follow?
Ms Paterson has overseen some historic moments in the Welsh rugby in her time, from the implementation of National Dual Contracts to the drawing up, revision and day-to-day working of the Rugby Services Agreement that currently serves as the bedrock of the professional game in Wales.
She represents the Union on a variety of World Rugby committees, Olympic committees, in Europe, on PRO12 matters and sits on our own rugby management board and PRGB which deals with issues at regional level – but has being a women made a difference to her professional working life?
“I think its fine to ask the question, I honestly think that being a woman in rugby or sport, I can work with coaches and players on sensitive matters,” she says, “Because I’m not seen as someone who is directly competing with them. Because I’ve not been an international rugby player or an international coach and because I’ve earned my stripes over time, I would like to think they just accept me and trust me fully.
“The Regions, for example, have never had an issue with me representing their interests, they’ve always very much been about ‘the best person for the job’ whether it’s a woman or a man. I think that is where we are now.”
TRY, TRY, AND TRY AGAIN
Finally then, the WRU has been very public in its ambition to promote women throughout the game and in particular, increase diversity on its Board.
But Paterson, often the champion of clubs – as you might think – has always been an advocate of the good work done by both sexes on and off the field throughout the game, so what is different and does she welcome a new approach?
“Of course it’s welcome, but I’ve always been that way myself,” she added.
“Like I say, you can’t be too precious, because you’ve got to be in it to change it. You can’t change it from the outside. You can sit outside and keep getting frustrated about things that aren’t happening but unless you just step up and say ‘well I may have to swallow my pride on this one, but if it gets us to the end goal then so be it’ – only then over time will you earn people’s respect and start to affect change.
“You might fail on the first time of trying but just keep going. If I’d given up on the first time of trying I wouldn’t have got past 1990.
“Don’t let your own nervousness get in the way of allowing that opportunity at any level. We want our workforce to grow not reduce. We don’t want anyone to be replaced or women to take the place of a man, we just want everyone to have the opportunity to come to the fore, man or woman. That’s all it is.”
Scarlets set up Toulon showdown
SCARLETS head coach Wayne Pivac, as an ex-policeman, orchestrated a crime of immense proportions at the Recreation Ground in Bath on Friday (Jan 12), when his Scarlet side won their must win European encounter 35-17.
Greeted onto the pitch by Greenhill School’s year 10 students as flag bearers, the game got off to an electric opening when Wales international centre Scott Williams caught the kick off and immediately referee Jerome Garcos awarded a penalty.
Outside half Dan Jones line kicks missed touch in the initial stages and his nervousness in such a titanic game was obvious.
Second row, Irish international Tadgh Beirne, rescued the situation by taking the line out ball against the throw, with the tackling strong from the visitors who were unable to recycle the ball as the game settled.
A blooded nose for skipper Ken Owen as ‘Bread of Heaven’ rang loudly from the Thatcher’s terrace, alongside sympathy for former outside half Rhys Priestland, whose birthday celebration were ruined when he limped off with a pulled hamstring to be replaced by Freddie Burns.
The Scarlets, now set and stable and got a nudge on at the scrum to establish the mantra for the evening with scrum half Gareth Davies darting clear on the blindside; England international full back Anthony Watson showed a clean pair of heels himself in response when running 40 metres from deep in his danger zone with flanker Sam Underhill in support.
A score was inevitable with such a frantic opening and it was the Scarlets who got the scoreboard rolling in a scintillating manner after nine minutes, starting from Beirne’s clawed line out ball.
Williams made the initial break, finding the support of second row David Bullring; centre Hadleigh Parkes took up the mantle finding Australian winger Paul Asquith, to flanker Aaron Shingler as they moved the ball with silky hands hitting gaps before it fell once again to the marauding Beirne.
From 15 metres out, he produced a Phil Bennett sidestep to screech in for a try converted by outside half Dan Jones.
Hymns and Arias was resounding into the cold air but the try was sweet, Neil Diamond’s appreciation of Caroline perhaps a better analogy for possibly the try of the season from the Land of my Fathers.
Freddie Burns pinged the Bath opening score after No. 8 John Barclay stopped their forward impetus and left the field for ten minutes on the French referee’s direction.
It was the Scarlets however who then dug deep, making ground and managing the game time superbly.
Shingler, running straight and with purpose made the gain line.
Full back Rhys Patchell and Parkes endeavour had the 13,822 crowd on the edge of their seats, which put Asquith in corner for a score despite being down to 14 men.
There was no stopping the red tide as five minutes later scrum half Davies rumbled 25 metres and found Welsh international Parkes on his shoulder and the centre crossed for his ninth try in 71 appearances, under duress, for a converted score and a 19-3 lead.
Williams was on fire, making another break to set up a scrum when the Scarlets were living in the moment; if he timed the pass his side were clear again for a score and perhaps on reflection needed just to consolidate their exuberance and make half time with their tail feathers unruffled may have suited.
A war of attrition with short passes and yardage in the tight areas wore down the clock and with it the Bath players and supporter’s hearts. The dominant scrum was verbalised loudly from prop Rob Evans and Jones slipped over the penalty for a half time lead of 22-3.
Bath as a city welcomes an array of nationalities but the atmosphere that trounced around the English fortress in January was full of ‘Heart and Soul’.
The Welsh contingent were delirious with their melody for a team of ‘Samson Lees’ eloquently reverberating around a city’s proclaimed architecture. Having been missing from the front row for many weeks before Christmas the prop was quite superb alongside fellow international Evans and his skipper, Ken Owens anchored between them.
Pivac has been coaching for 22 years since his first footstep on the rung in Northland, New Zealand but the victory in the back yard of the Aviva Premiership rugby giants was surely up with his best moments. Pro 12 champions last season having beaten Munster in Dublin to return a week later and rumble Leinster in the same venue included.
The ‘Rec’ was a cultural phenomenon, when Scarlets rugby once more came of age as they sat on the brink of a place in the European quarter final for the first time in 11 years. Bath rugby had lifted this trophy 20 years ago under the leadership of Scottish scrum half Andy Nicol’s but through their parade at half time, would have been in awe of the first half performance.
Music and Wales go hand in hand. Greenhill School, on tour at Backwell with the year ten students playing football, rugby and netball had the experience of a lifetime arranged through PE teacher Phil ‘Taffy’ Williams.
A school whose equally renowned musical talent under Samantha Hughes would have taken the Irish love ballad ‘Fields of Athenry’ to new heights given the opportunity.
Innate to the Irish famine of 1845 this anthem of the ‘underdog’ often resonating at Landsdowne Road or even Anfield a mercurial throw back to the task that sat before the visitors.
Top of Conference B the Scarlets took control early in the second half as they went in search of their bonus point try. The home eight were not match at the scrum set piece as Owens didn’t hesitate in choosing a rumble instead of taking a pot at goal.
Three times they drained the time and the Bath spirit, perilously close to crossing the try line through forward drives. Six minutes into the second half Patchell received the ball to deftly put a grubber kick through, allowing Williams to dab down wide out and Jones add the extras for 29-3.
The red tide were feeding the baying supporters cries for evangelical bread, where the ‘manna’ and intensity was unyielding. The team of Samson Lee lost their talisman on 55 minutes as his replacement Werner Kruger was rock sold as the choristers ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ resonated loudly and proudly.
Bath coaching guru Todd Blackadder needed his side to develop a pattern of play as they refused a kick at goal in search of a try, which came when winger Matt Banahan caught Burns kick in the corner allowing the outside half to convert with an hour played.
‘Long John’ Welsh second row Luke Charteris, a man with a biochemist degree and a fluent French speaker to boot took the hand-me-down inspirational singing to his hear. Not one for ‘losing my religion’ the boiler house man’s efforts allowed him a well earned rest at the same time as opposite number Bullring.
Over 150 years of rugby history in North Somerset has placed foundations from which the home side ran with their head of steam. Pivac manipulated his cast list with the game and full points in the bag, with Aled Davies arriving at inside half. Tried and trusted combinations saw Owens and Beirne orchastrting the line forcing Watson to desperately run from deep as the ‘big shift’ put in from down West was recognised.
Owens, Hong Kong born Barclay, and Evans were done but still the tide wouldn’t subside, drawn to their supporters in the Dyson stand as Pivac’s decision to play a six to two forward split off the bench drew a scrum penalty.
Jones added the points for a 32-10 and a fourscore lead with 12 minutes to play. The defensive patterns were as impressive as any offensive effort, Patchell making a last ditch cover tackle on Zach Mercer with five minutes to play typifying the ‘hywl’.
Top of the ball line out and replacement Josh Macloed madeground and play was outside the danger zone with Jones clearance. Back came Bath and No. 8 Zach Mercer couldn’t be denied in the opposite corner for a converted try after a cutting run from winger Aled Brew, skipper Matt Garvey and second row Paul Grant.
Williams and Prydie responded to gain a penalty for offside with ‘Sospan Fach’ finishing proceedings fittingly, with Jones boot, edging the score to 35-17.
The Bath faithful, forlorn and remorseful took an early bath wondering what had happened.
LTC Mobility sponsored Furnace rugby club members summed it up amidst their exuberant acclaims.
Centre and club vice captain Scott Davies hoarsely crooned: “It’s the best away trip I’ve experienced. Our 1800 strong choir left nothing in the changing room and it was certainly a factor in lifting the squad.”
On Saturday (Jan 20) another blockbuster awaits, when Toulon visit Parc Y Scarlets and the home side need a minimum of a bonus point to progress into the knockout stages.
Davies smiling face finished the evening with: “Let this be the springboard to the next level. This could be the year we lift the Heineken trophy and the whole of Europe will stand up for the champions.”
Aber slip to second Old Gold defeat
FOR the second time in a week, Aberystwyth Town were beaten by bottom side Carmarthen Town in the Welsh Premier League.
The Old Gold won 1-0 against the Seasiders on Boxing Day and on New Years Day (Monday, Jan 1), Carmarthen came away with a 2-1 victory to boost their hopes of getting out of the bottom two.
On a blustery Monday afternoon at Park Avenue, a bizarre 66th minute goal from Carmarthen goalkeeper Lee Idzi, followed by a late Liam Griffiths strike were enough to hand the Old Gold all three points, despite a consolation goal by Aber’s Matthew Jones in added time.
The defeat leaves Aber in 10th place in the JD Welsh Premier League and mathematically ends Nev Powell’s side’s hopes of finishing in the league’s top six positions ahead of the second half of the season.
Visitors Carmarthen Town came into the game having won just two of their previous nineteen league games, but buoyed by their Boxing Day victory over the Seasiders.
Nevertheless, it was the hosts who started the game strongest, with the gale force wind at their backs, as Declan Walker fired an early shot straight at Lee Idzi in the Carmarthen goal.
Aber continued to dominate the early stages as Craig Hobson volleyed over the bar before Ashley Young’s in-swinging corner came inches from crossing the goal line.
On 28 minutes, Aber again went close as Walker tried his luck from long range once more, before Jonny Spittle fired an effort wide of the post.
The visitors struggled to get a foothold in the game as the strong winds significantly impacted both teams’ efforts. As half time approached, Luke Borrelli swivelled on the edge of the penalty area before unleashing a shot that was deflected straight into the grateful arms of Idzi, as the first half ended in stalemate.
Aber came out in the second half playing into a stiff breeze, but there appeared to be more urgency in their play.
On 55 minutes, Town created the best chance of the game as Luke Borrelli’s goal bound effort was cleared off the goal line after a scramble inside the penalty area.
However, the turning point in the game came on 66 minutes as Carmarthen took the lead through the most unlikely of scorers.
Goalkeeper Lee Idzi collected the ball inside his penalty area before launching an innocuous clearance downfield, which got caught in the wind and looped over the head of Aber ‘keeper Chris Mullock and into the back of the net to make it 1-0.
Nev Powell sensed it was time for changes as he introduced Joe Phillips and Malcolm Melvin to try and create some added goal threat.
On 77 minutes, Aber again went close, as Declan Walker broke free down the right flank before narrowly shooting over the bar.
Aber were becoming increasingly desperate as they searched for an equaliser, and on the stroke of full time Carmarthen delivered the sucker punch goal that finished the game.
Keiran Lewis played in substitute Liam Griffiths who slotted a neat finish past Mullock to make it 2-0.
Town were able to grab a consolation goal before the full time whistle as Matthew Jones tapped in Ryan Wade’s cross at the far post, but it was too little too late for Nev Powell’s side.
The defeat confirms Town’s place in the league’s bottom half for the remainder of the season, as the Seasiders now aim to finish in the lucrative 7th place come the end of the season and the potential for a European play-off game.
Aber must now turn their attentions to their next JD Welsh Premier League fixture, away at Cardiff Metropolitan University on Saturday in a 5:30pm kick off, live on TV in front of the Sgorio cameras.
Jones’ stunner earns win for Street
A LARGE holiday crowd enjoyed a very competitive local derby on Saturday (Dec 30) which the home side won with a spectacular goal by former Borth player Ben Jones.
Bow Street took an early lead when Mark Gornall took a quick free kick and Garmon Nutting controlled the ball superbly and beat the goalkeeper.
Despite huge amounts of possession, and numerous opportunities, the home side were unable to add to their lead.
The same pattern followed in the second half but with 25 minutes to go, on a rare foray in to the visitors’ penalty area, James Davies equalised for Borth following a defensive mix up.
The last twenty minutes saw huge amounts of pressure from the home side and with five minutes left a sublime move involving many players was finished by a spectacular finish by Ben Jones for what was a deserved but hard-fought win.
Manager Barry Williams said: “We almost paid for not taking our chances again. But delighted to have come through in the end and it was brilliant for the boys to play in front of such a large crowd.”
The win for Bow Street moves them up to sixth place in Division 1 of the Mid Wales League while Borth remain second from bottom in the table.
On Saturday (Jan 6), both sides are in action in the third round of the Central Wales Cup.
Bow Street are away to Carno while Borth are also away as they take on Llandrindod Wells.
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