Women’s rugby is starting to attract more and more fans and attention, the number of players is increasing, and the media ratings are going up. Today, we are lucky to be able to discuss the growth of women’s rugby with a renowned coach: Philip Doyle.
Philip Doyle was until the COVID pandemic hit the coach of Scotland’s national Women’s team. On the international scene, he also coached the Irish, winning Ireland’s first Grand Slam in 2013 and a historic victory over the Blacks Ferns (New Zealand) at the 2014 World Cup.
Philip, you have been coaching for more than 20 years, what are your best memories as a coach on the international stage or in a club?
Since I started coaching in 1995, I have had many good memories. I think 2013 and 2014 will remain my most important years, with winning the Grand Slam of 2013 and especially the victory against the English. There is a great rivalry between England and Ireland and beating the English is always good.
One of the highlights of your career is your victory over the Blacks Ferns with Ireland, why do you think New Zealand is considered the best team in the world?
I don’t think New Zealand is the best team in the world in women’s rugby. When we beat them in the World Cup, the New Zealanders didn’t really take us seriously. The Blacks Ferns are certainly talented, but I am convinced that Northern Hemisphere teams like France or England are better. With a more effective set piece (lineout, scrums) and players like the French have who are also very technical. I must admit that I am not a fan of New Zealanders, I have spent some time in New Zealand, and this arrogant, very confident side has bothered me particularly.
You were a member of Blackrock College, one of the best “colleges” in Ireland, why did you choose to become a coach?
When I was still a young player, a New Zealand coach came to train us at Blackrock in 1996. It was Mike Brewer, the All Blacks flanker who played at the 1995 World Cup alongside Jonah Lomu. He wrote an article about me and how I had ability but it was apparent I hadn’t be coached. I didn’t though about ever becoming a coach, but I was particularly motivated by this article, and wanting to help players be well coached, especially since my wife who played for the Irish team told me I was going to become her coach. Today I have no regrets in making this choice to become a coach, I am convinced that coaching allows people to become better individuals.
You were part of the staff of the Scottish team, what are the main differences between the functioning of women’s rugby in Ireland and Scotland?
The two countries are slowly moving closer at the rugby level. Scottish rugby has incredible support, the federation is set up well so that girls can benefit from the best coaches, the best training, and equipment. Irish Women’s rugby does not receive the same support, yet the Irish team remains ahead of the Scots in the World Rugby rankings. However, the level of the two nations is getting closer and closer. Ireland has a greater knowledge, a better knowledge of women’s rugby, that’s what makes the difference for the moment.
Women’s rugby is largely amateur, is it not too difficult to prepare matches, competitions, with players who also have a job in addition to rugby?
The preparation is completely different compared to men who are not amateurs. In Scotland, the players enjoy a semi-professional status unlike the English for example. As a coach we talk a lot and we are very close to our staff. We have a role of balance, to find the right level of pressure and requirement between their training and their work.
Justin (Fitzpatrick) told me your nickname was the goose, why?
(Laughter) My nickname for the goose comes from the days when I used to paint-ball, I was pretty good, I was even part of the Irish national paint-ball team. Friends nickname me the goose, did not ask me why (laughs), but this nickname still pursues me today.
Finally, can we know what your personal objectives for the next deadlines?
Covid unfortunately killed all my plans, I had to go back to Ireland with my family, I can’t go back to Scotland to coach the Women’s National Team; and there are very few opportunities for me to coach in Ireland. Currently I coach the local club next to me, I take care of young players from 16 to 18 years. I also take care of women’s rugby. I think I am a better coach for women than for men, I find girls are much more friendly, and more receptive to advice and to progress. The fact that they always come to training with a smile and good mood makes them want to train.