NEW Scotland women’s coach Shade Munro views his challenge to change the fortunes of the female national team as similar to the task he faced when joining a struggling Glasgow side more than ten years ago.
The 48-year-old former international lock took the job after his contract as Warriors forward coach was not renewed at the end of the season. The career shift has been viewed as a demotion in some quarters, but Munro refuted that notion yesterday and said he was relishing the opportunity to build up the women’s game in Scotland.
“I had a perception of the women’s game when I came into it, and it’s probably the perception of a lot of people,” he said yesterday. “I was in a bubble with the Glasgow Warriors, and my perception would be that they weren’t really that good, that they didn’t give it that much effort. That they were kind of playing at it.
“Since being involved, that’s actually not the case. The players themselves are very dedicated, very coachable, very keen – really willing to learn.
“I was really enthused by that, because that wasn’t my impression of what it was. I have to say I was wrong.
“Over the last few seasons it’s not had the support it maybe needs, so someone like myself coming in full-time should make a difference.”
As women’s rugby in other countries, notably England and Ireland, has rocketed into a new professional era, the amateur Scots have been left behind, slumping from Grand Slam champions in 1998 to a team now taking regular heavy beatings in the Six Nations.
Munro agreed that the job ahead was similar to the one which saw him help take Glasgow from rock bottom of the old Celtic League in the middle of the last decade to Guinness Pro12 champions last season.
“Absolutely. I totally agree with that analogy,” he said. “It was relatively amateur at Glasgow at the beginning, even though we were professional. The coaches as well – we had to learn. It’s a different animal here but the progression needs to happen and that’s what I’d be hoping to achieve.”
Munro has now hosted two training camps, been impressed by the commitment he has seen from the players, and is excited by the fact that 16 elite female players will be benefiting from the new BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy system. With a vastly more structured build-up to the next Six Nations, Munro is hoping to see the women’s team steadily improve and build towards being more competitive.
He said: “I have been surprised and really enthused by how they approach the game. They’re mad keen to learn. Because they’re amateur it’s very difficult to get those resources out to them. Certainly one of the major things for me is to get them training together as much as possible. We’ve started to do that, with skills nights every Monday now. They’ll get specialist coaches at that.”
Munro laughed off those comments suggesting the new job was a demotion and said: “When I was at Glasgow, all I was doing was coaching whereas here it’s the whole structure of the women’s game. There is a huge part of it that isn’t just coaching which I quite like the idea of doing. If I was looking to do something different in the professional game, this is it.
“When you look at women’s sport in general, it is taking off. It’s on TV regularly and there is a lot of chat. It should have happened years ago but it has filtered through now and we don’t want to get left behind.
“I’m passionate about Scottish sport and rugby is my game, so, if I can help the women’s game I would see that as a massive achievement. I would be hugely proud and I am driven to make that happen.”
Improving the domestic structure is seen as a key priority and yesterday Scottish Rugby launched the Donna Kennedy Cup, named after Scotland’s most capped women’s player. A Glasgow and Caledonia ‘West’ select will play an Edinburgh and Borders ‘East’ XV at BT Murrayfield on Sunday 11 October.
The best player in the fixture each year will also have a special honour of receiving an award in memory of Keri Holdsworth. Keri won 15 caps for Scotland and worked with a number of age-grade teams subsequently as a physiotherapist. She died at the age of 36, following a car accident in June 2014.
Scottish Rugby’s head of women’s and girls’ rugby Sheila Begbie said: “We wanted to generate a new level of competition within the women’s game that can generate good competition for places, becomes a fixture in the playing calendar and a matter of regional pride as to who holds the trophy.
“Our strategy for the women’s game in Scotland is to create a top-down model, in that the international and senior players are the inspiration for new players to come into the game and through raising the quality of our existing players we can set new standards.”