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.”
Boxer set to compete in Germany
CARDIGAN light-welterweight boxer Ben Rees-Davies returns to the scene of his greatest performance this week (Oct 19-22) when he competes in the prestigious Eindhoven Box Cup in Germany.
Seventeen months ago, the talented 25-year-old acquitted himself superbly by winning a bronze medal in a tournament which invariably draws some of the finest amateurs in Europe and the world.
Rees-Davies – a lance corporal in the Royal Welsh Regiment – eventually lost in the semi-finals to Russian number one Arman Zakaryan, the 2015 European champion and an Olympic qualifier.
A series of injuries mean that the former Cardigan ABC man has not boxed since losing in the Welsh Championships quarter-finals in March.
But Rees-Davies says he is now fully fit, fuelled by the nagging belief he has never quite fulfilled his potential – and by the fact he may soon have to hang up his gloves.
“I’m entered into an 18-man strong group with boxers from all over the world, it’s a Commonwealth Games qualifying tournament so there will be a fantastic pedigree of boxers,” he told the Herald.
“I’ve had a few frustrating injuries since the Welsh Championships so I haven’t been active, but if anything it’s made me more hungry to get back in the ring and achieve big things this year.
“For me it’s a massive season, and it could be my last so I’m aiming to achieve as much as I can and show my true potential once and for all.”
Rees-Davies said the time was approaching when he would have to focus wholeheartedly on his Army career.
He explained: “I want to progress with promotion. I love boxing with all my heart, but I have to think of my career also.”
He said he was ‘eternally grateful’ to long-time friend Anthony Studley, of Hair Lounge 4 Men in Cardigan – himself a former Cardigan ABC boxer – for helping him with funding.
“I massively appreciate help from him and he’s a credit to the town,” he said.
Aber knocked out by Reds
Aberaeron • 1
Llanelli Town • 6
JD Welsh Cup
LLANELLI TOWN proved too strong for Aberaeron last Saturday (Oct 7), as they were knocked out of the JD Welsh Cup by their Welsh League Division 1 opponents.
With the pitch looking immaculate the scene was set for a memorable cup tie but unfortunately that dream only lasted five minutes.
Aberaeron, who have regularly conceded easy goals from lost possession, were left in no doubt that it should be safety first.
A cleared defensive header from an early corner for Llanelli should have been dealt with but possession was lost and a quick cross was easily headed in to the net.
Before Aberaeron could settle, Llanelli’s star player Lee Trundle beat three players to give himself a sight on goal and he thundered an unstoppable shot in off the underside of the bar.
Aberaeron woke up and Matty Davies was twice through on goal but no end product. Llanelli were passing well and Lee Trundle found himself one on one against Sion Clark. He turned cleverly leaving the defender in his wake and was unceremoniously upended for a clear penalty. Trundle drove it hard to the keeper’s left for number three.
Once more Aberaeron came in to the game, but passes were awry and often intercepted. A long clearance from Llanelli was not caught by Edwards, the Aberaeron keeper and the ball was easily tapped in to an empty net.
The second half was an attempt at a pride salvaging operation and Aberaeron gave a good account of themselves without finding the opponents net.
Trundle was kept at bay for the majority of the half but his trickery once more led to him being fouled in the box and he, once more, slammed the ball to the keeper’s left for five nil.
Aberaeron did get a consolation goal from the penalty spot from Matty Davies before another calamitous defending error gave Llanelli a sixth.
The score did not truly reflect the game but it reflects the ruthlessness of an ex professional striker who, clearly writes his own headlines- quite deservedly.
For Aberaeron, these are worrying times and the next three fixtures are ‘must wins’.
If Aberaeron cannot eradicate the problem of losing simple possession then it’s going to a long and very difficult season.
Aber climb off the bottom
Aberystwyth Town • 0
Barry Town • 0
ABERYSTWYTH TOWN earned themselves a point to climb off the bottom of the JD Welsh Premier League table last Saturday afternoon (Oct 7), as they were held to a 0-0 draw by Barry Town United at Park Avenue.
Both sides missed good opportunities to win the game in the second half, but the game ended in stalemate as both managers settled for a point apiece.
Aber manager Nev Powell made one change to the starting line-up from Tuesday’s Nathaniel MG Cup defeat to Airbus UK Broughton, with John Owen replacing Cledan Davies, which meant Mathew Jones started at left back for the first time in his Black and Greens’ career.
Both sides started the game cautiously, with the game lacking any real rhythm through the first 15 minutes. Barry came closest to opening the scoring on 16 minutes, as Chris Mullock somehow pulled off an instinctive point-blank save from Kayne Mclaggon’s close range shot.
Mclaggon was forced off through injury shortly afterwards, and Macauley Southam fired a long-range effort over the bar for the visitors.
Aber continued to struggle to get any threatening attacking play going, with Ryan Wade shooting well wide of the post on separate occasions.
The half time whistle could not come soon enough for the 233 spectators at Park Avenue.
The first 15 minutes of the second half again proved to be rather uninspiring for the neutrals, as both sides struggled to create clear-cut chances.
On 60 minutes, Aber’s midfield maestro Malcolm Melvin, and soon after striker Craig Hobson were introduced in place of Ryan Wollacott and Joe Phillips, with manager Nev Powell looking for some fresh impetus from his side.
Aber began to slowly crank up the pressure on the visitors’ rear guard, as Ryan Wade shot straight at Barry keeper Mike Lewis, before Hobson almost converted an in-swinging Ashley Young free kick.
Barry themselves continues to look dangerous on the counter attack with the pace of wide men Tyrrell Webbe and Drew Fahiya, but on 87 minutes Aber again came close to the breakthrough as Hobson headed Wade’s cross into the side-netting.
Aber looked for one last chance as the game headed into three minutes of added time, and they very nearly found the winner in the dying seconds as right back Declan Walker brought the ball down from the sky and fired a low shot towards goal, only for it to hit the outside of the post.
This was another occasion where Aber have to settle for a point when it could so easily have been three, but manager Nev Powell will take encouragement from the organisation and defensive qualities his side showed today, keeping their first clean sheet in the league this season.
Town now turn their attentions to their next JD Welsh Premier League fixture away to Llandudno, on Saturday (Oct 14).
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