Katy Daley-Mclean interview: Women’s rugby should be more cut-throat

·4-min read
Katy Daley-Mclean: Women’s rugby should be more cut-throat - Shutterstock/Bryan Keane
Katy Daley-Mclean: Women’s rugby should be more cut-throat - Shutterstock/Bryan Keane

Former England fly-half Katy Daley-Mclean expects coaching decisions in women’s rugby to become “more cut-throat” after Simon Middleton was permitted a “romantic” departure from the Red Roses.

Middleton, who took over as England women’s head coach in 2015 and has led the side to consecutive World Cup finals – losing to New Zealand on both occasions, will sign off at the conclusion of the Women’s Six Nations, which gets underway on Saturday.

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There are only two-and-a-half years until the next World Cup, which England will host, after the 2021 tournament was postponed by a year because of the Covid pandemic. The Rugby Football Union insists it has a coaching succession plan in place but the body has not rushed to appoint Middleton’s replacement, despite the condensed turnaround until the 2025 World Cup.

It means Middleton will take charge of the Red Roses for one final Six Nations campaign, culminating in an historic fixture against France at Twickenham, for which more than 36,000 tickets have already been sold.

'The talent available to Simon's successor is absolutely phenomenal'

“If we were in a normal four-year cycle, the man totally deserves the opportunity to go out on a high note,” said Daley-Mclean, who captained the Red Roses to World Cup victory in 2014. “I just wonder what impact it has on the next coach because of how thick and fast the games come.

“It’s very romantic that he gets the opportunity for this to happen. I’m really glad from a personal point of view – I had a really good relationship with him – that Midds gets to do that. I hope that he gets to go out on a win because he deserves that, given what he’s presided over.

“Will we see this happen to any other coaches in the same circumstances? I’m not sure. Midds is a really proud man as well. From his perspective, I’m sure he just wouldn’t have wanted that token gesture either. Maybe he will be the last kind of romance for the women’s game and that actually after him, it [women’s rugby] becomes more cut-throat.”

Bill Sweeney, the RFU’s chief executive, stressed in the aftermath of England’s World Cup final defeat by New Zealand last November that the body had “exactly the same process for coach succession planning for the women’s as we have for the men’s”.

A job advert for the England women’s head coach role published on the RFU’s careers website last month, which remains open, would appear to undermine that assertion.

The RFU, which has “current candidates in mind” for the role, said it did not follow that protocol for the England men’s head coach role last December because “Steve Borthwick had already been identified as our first-choice successor”.

“We are doing this to help identify any other individuals who may be interested who are not already on our radar, and to ensure we appoint the best person,” added an RFU spokesperson. “We will consider a range of suitable candidates and will appoint who we feel is best suited to do the role.” 

Daley-Mclean, who made 116 Test appearances and is England’s fourth most-capped player of all time, believes it is crucial a woman is part of the Red Roses’ coaching staff at the 2025 World Cup. “That has to happen,” she said. “Gone are the days when our female representatives [at England level] were team managers and physios.”

Katy Daley-Mclean: Women’s rugby should be more cut-throat - Sage
Katy Daley-Mclean: Women’s rugby should be more cut-throat - Sage

England embark on their Six Nations campaign with a squad that is very much in transition as they look to move on from their World Cup disappointment.

Sarah Hunter, England’s most-capped player, will retire after Saturday’s opener in Newcastle against Scotland, while the Red Roses will also be without their consistent lineout jumper Abbie Ward, who announced her pregnancy earlier this year.

Injuries to key players including Emily Scarratt, Zoe Harrison and Helena Rowland have also prompted a number of fresh faces within England’s backs, with in-form Gloucester-Hartpury duo Emma Sing and Ellie Rugman both called up.

Daley-Mclean, who was among those who criticised the monotony of the Red Roses’ maul-heavy game plan at last year’s World Cup, suggested now was the perfect time for England to evolve their attack given the raft of new faces in the squad.

“Why would you want to settle for the forwards giving you the ball when it’s slow? And it’s the same from a forward’s point of view. You must be like, ‘I’m working my absolute ass off here – you guys share a bit of this’,” she said. “It’s about understanding the potential of what they have and how they can utilise it.

“It will be fascinating whoever takes over from Simon and what comes next because some of the talent available to them is absolutely phenomenal. So getting it all to tie up would be perfect.”

Sage is the Official Insights Partner of Six Nations Rugby and will be powering the Smart Ball this TikTok Women’s Six Nations tournament. #SageInsights

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