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.”
Exercise Referral Scheme doing more for health intervention than ever before
A record 35,069 participants attended Exercise Referral classes during 2640 hours of health classes in 2019.
The National Exercise Referral Scheme (NERS) is an evidence-based health intervention scheme which incorporates physical activity and behavioural change techniques to support referred clients to make lifestyle changes to improve their health and well-being.
NERS Ceredigion has seen a dramatic increase in demand over the past year. A coordinator and four full time exercise professionals work to deliver the scheme, delivering 73 classes per week. The age of participants range from 16 years old, with the eldest participant in Ceredigion being 95.
Exercise class options include Gym, Circuit, Postural Stability (seated), Spin Bikes, Aqua Aerobics, Tai Chi and Pilates. Venues include council and community centres in Aberystwyth, Aberaeron, Lampeter, Tregaron, Cardigan and Llandysul.
Councillor Catrin Miles, Cabinet member with responsibility for Leisure, highlighted the benefits of the scheme, “There are many physical, psychological and social benefits to being part of the scheme, including confidence-building, better self-esteem, meeting new people and being generally fitter and healthier. Ceredigion Actif’s highly qualified Health Intervention Team provide opportunities to exercise that are fun, rewarding and that can be incorporated into everyday life.”
NERS Ceredigion targets people with a medical condition through various pathways including generic, cardiac rehabilitation, pulmonary, PSI falls, stroke rehabilitation, mental health, cancer and weight management. The 16 week tailored programme of exercise is delivered by a team of specialist Level 4 qualified exercise professionals who guide referred participants towards realising their individual goals.
A participant in Aberystwyth said, “This has been the best thing I have ever done. I have thrived from doing different activities and pushing myself out of my comfort zone which has not only helped my self-esteem but also my depression and everything else including my pain. I have also made new friends which I didn’t even consider would happen and we’re not only being social but we’re having fun too which is a bonus”.
There is ongoing monitoring from the instructors with follow up assessments at 16 weeks as well as on completion at 52 weeks. Long-term ‘maintenance’ options are available post 16 weeks which include the continuation of exercise classes as well as opportunities to join clubs such as walking basketball, walking football, golf sessions and walking rugby.
During 2018-2019 there were 913 referrals to the scheme. To gain access to the scheme, a person needs to be referred by a Health Professional, usually a GP, Practice Nurse or a condition specific Physiotherapist.
Aber pushed hard by Yr Hendy
THIS was considered a must-win game for Aber against Yr Hendy.
The convincing-looking scoreline did not reflect the game but Aber will gladly pocket the win and move on with confidence.
Aber started with a bang when after 2 minutes Carwyn Evans intercepted a Hendy pass in midfield and did well to free his arms to feed Adam Carvell who romped in from halfway to open the scoring.
It wasn’t long before a second try which Steff Rees again converted.
Aber were unlucky not to increase their lead when the referee ruled they failed to ground the ball over the line after a series of forward drives.
Aber opted for a scrum from the resulting penalty and, following a couple of forward drives, Bryn Shepherd forced his way over the line to score wideout.
Aber were denied a fourth first-half try when they were penalised for crossing.
The penalty seemed to inspire Hendy who went on to dominate the next phase of the game and quickly scored two converted tries to get them right back in it.
The first was a penalty try. After a sweeping backs move the visitors’ blindside wing was denied a try illegally.
The second followed after Aber failed to deal with a speculative chip ahead.
Full back Newman pounced on the ball and touched down near the posts for Morris to convert easily.
Ahead at the half but with the opposition breathing down their necks, Aber needed a strong start to the second period.
They began purposefully and quickly got on to the scoreboard to extend their lead. After a strong forward driver, Paul Stubbs emerged to score the try that restored a two-score gap and gained the bonus point.
When Hendy blundered while in possession, Aber’s Steff Rees was the quickest to react and hacked through to win a thrilling foot race from the halfway line to touch down.
Hendy kept plugging away and subjected Aber to a lot of pressure close to their line.
Their pressure reaped its reward after an Aber yellow card when Yr Hendy flanker Gareth Thomas burst over to score a try which Morris converted.
Aber pulled themselves together, particularly in the line-out.
An excellent catch and drive took Aber from the visitors’ 25 to the try line. When Y Hendy infringed to disrupt progress, Aber opted for a scrum and pounded into the visitors’ eight. As Y Hendy’s scrum wheeled and turned they infringed again.
The ref had no hesitation in awarding a penalty try.
That was the final score of the game and Aber ran out 36-21 victors.
Despite the difficult playing conditions, this was an entertaining high-scoring contest from which Aber will be well pleased to emerge victorious.
Next week, Aber make the trip to Parc Lloyd Thomas to face Clwb Rygbi Crymych.
Photo credit Mike Binks
Aber bounce back with victory
AFTER last week’s tough home game against table-topping Newcastle Emlyn, Aberystwyth made the long trip to Llangennech to get their season back on track.
Llangennech have been very hard to beat at home all season and boast as impressive a front eight as any in the division.
Given that the visitors arrived with a depleted squad of only seventeen players; it was more in hope than expectation that Aber made Saturday’s trip.
But in one of the most exciting games, and one of their best performances of the season so far, they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the dying seconds of this game.
On a fine, dry, still afternoon Aber kicked off and played with the advantage of a slight slope. Llangennech were the more impressive of the two sides early on even though it took them nearly ten minutes to get out of their half. The hosts moved the ball more smoothly and their forwards linked well to threaten Aber’s defence. But the visitors kept them out with determined and effective tackling by backs and forwards.
The visitors broke the deadlock after thirty minutes from a scrum fifteen metres out. A huge shove from the Aber eight gave scrum-half Llyr Thomas plenty of time and space to feed outside half Steffan Rees. He found centre Carwyn Evans storming up outside him to cross for Aber’s opening try. Rees converted and the visitors were 0 – 7 ahead.
Llangennech hit back on the stroke of half-time with several well-supported breaks up the left-wing. Carwyn Evans put in an excellent try-saving tackle but the hosts won the ensuing ruck. Outside half Phillips put in a very accurate cross-field kick for winger Tom Davies to catch and score and for Taylor Phillips to convert to open the hosts’ account.
The half time score at 7 – 7 reflected the pattern of the first half. Both territory and possession had been evenly shared and the exchanges had been very physical.
Aber regained the lead after Llyr Thomas took a quick tap penalty to feed his backs. Dan Binks, lurking at outside centre, ran powerfully but was stopped illegally thirty metres out. Steffan Rees put over the kick and the visitors were back in the lead at 7 – 10.
Aber continued to throw the ball around and both wingers saw plenty of attacking action. Left-wing Adam Carvell made ground with a meandering run upfield and across the field leading to a series of rucks in which Aber retained possession. As they moved nearer and nearer to the hosts’ line Carwyn Evans again burst through for his and Aber’s second try. Rees converted and the lead was stretched to 7 – 17 with twenty minutes left to play.
Llangennech’s response was to up the tempo of their game and put Aber under increasing pressure. This would have been more effective had it not been for fine, relieving kicks from defence by Ian Ellis, Llyr Thomas, and Steffan Rees. But despite Aber’s strong defending the home side finally found a way through for Hopkins to score. Crucially, the try went unconverted and Aber seemed to have done enough at 12 – 17 to seal a win.
Llangennech continued to exert pressure from the kick-off. They gradually made ground against a tiring Aber side for hooker Jenkins to break through some weak tackling from ten metres out. His try was converted by Phillips to put the hosts ahead by 19 – 17 with less than five minutes left to play.
To their great credit, Aber found the energy to launch one last, desperate attack and forced a scrum thirty metres out and, with only a minute of play left, were awarded a penalty. The tension and the importance of the kick put a lot of pressure on kicker Steffan Rees. He struck the ball well; the ball struck a post and, much to Aber’s players and supporters’ delight, went over to clinch a well-earned win for the visitors by 19 – 20.
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