Wasps Ladies' Giselle Mather on being a Director of Rugby during coronavirus pandemic
"It depends how long this goes on as to whether I will have a job at the end of it," says Wasps' Giselle Mather
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 27/03/20 9:19am
Wasps Ladies Director of Rugby Giselle Mather chats exclusively to Sky Sports about what the coronavirus outbreak has been like from a professional and personal perspective.
A leading coach in women's rugby, a Rugby World Cup winner in 1994 and the first woman ever to coach at a Premiership club on the men's side as London Irish academy director, Mather has never experienced something like this.
In a world where things are changing minute-by-minute, those in positions of leadership and authority at clubs have had added responsibility and scrutiny thrust upon them.
So, what has the last few weeks been like from the perspective of a Director of Rugby?
"The first thing is to cope with the change and to keep people calm and give them clear specifics," Mather told Sky Sports Rugby.
"The constant changing scene was: 'Could we go in? Can we train? Will we have any competition? Is it suspended? What's going to happen?'
"It was real turmoil for everyone because the athletes put in so much effort and time. And it's slightly different for us compared to our male counterparts in the Premiership, because that's their full-time, paid job.
"There are a few athletes in the Tyrrells Premier 15s who are paid, but not many. To a lot of them, it's their main thing but they work in order that they can play.
"They invest so much of their time, energy, personal finance, everything into it.
"So when all of this was going on, there was a huge amount of concern. For me, the thing was to be as clear as I could.
"I realised very quickly that to link the players in on things immediately, it meant I was then telling them completely different things three hours later.
"I ended up every evening at 8pm, sending out messages to all the players in terms of the day we'd had, where we were at as a group and what we were looking to do in the next day or so.
"I would respond to them every day and they really appreciated that I think. That was my first major role - to give clarity and guidance as to how we at Wasps were going to deal with it.
"Then, as soon as the RFU did give us pretty good leadership where we're concerned, saying: 'That's it, it's finished. This league is done'. We were able to make really clear decisions ourselves because a lot of the variables had gone.
"When you're saying to athletes: 'Oh we might be playing in six weeks time,' they've got to do very different things to if you say: 'That's it, it's gone.'
"Since, we've said one day to imagine it's May 30, which was supposed to be the Tyrrells Premier 15s final. And we put in place a thing as if we'd just won it, to celebrate in all their homes one night - just for fun, because nobody could say we hadn't!
"We've put them on their end-of-season rest period. Normally that would be compulsory, and we'd make them rest, but because we didn't play during the Six Nations, it makes this even harder for athletes in the Tyrrells Premier 15s.
"So I've said they can continue to train if they want to, but bearing in mind that when it hits pre-season, whenever that might be, we will be ramping it up and if you keep going constantly, you'll go stale. There are all those things we've got to manage.
"I'm sending out weekly challenges to them. This week, we've got some hand-eye stuff, some visual awareness, and they can do that from home.
"I've asked them to write a letter to an old person they know, not an email but a letter, and post it, to bring connection to people who are self-isolating.
"We're also setting up the Zoom platform and we're all going to do a big work-out from our homes Thursday evenings following our strength and conditioner, instead of training.
"And on Tuesday, we've got a big quiz which we want everyone to come onto that platform and do. So it's all about keeping people connected. And that's what I'm trying to do as Director of Rugby."
It was on March 20 that the RFU announced there would be no commencement of 2019/20 domestic rugby in England at all levels below the Gallagher Premiership, ending the campaign.
As a result, the year 2020 will forever be left unmarked on several trophies. Un-won, uncompleted, unclaimed.
"The reasoning behind that was the government were talking about a 12-week cycle minimum," Mather says.
"If you go 12 weeks, rugby is a sport that you can't just go: 'Right we're back, you've all been keeping yourselves fit, so we're playing again next Saturday.' You need a three or four week period of time where you get the contact back in and build that up slowly, otherwise you end up with a shed load of injuries all over the place.
"So it would have been another four weeks, and then we're 16 weeks down the line and already hitting July. Then we would have to go six weeks from July and that immediately starts impacting on the following season, and COVID-19 doesn't just wreck this season, but it messes up the next.
"So the RFU have called it, and hopefully in September we start fresh and go. Personally, I commend them for that.
"In my league, we haven't got a Liverpool where someone was miles ahead, and we also haven't got relegation, so it's easier to do that than others. In the Gallagher Premiership, they haven't called it for example, so we don't know what's going to happen there yet.
"I mean, what are they going to do in Premier League football? Even if they do just award it to Liverpool, you just know what it would be like on the terraces next year. The other fans will be remorseless in their: 'You didn't win it' type thing, and you can just see it coming. And what do they do about relegation? There are huge issues for decision-makers.
"It's not simple and straightforward."
It's been an exceptionally uncertain and confusing period for all. How have the players reacted?
"We've got a big thing at Wasps: Stay strong, stay safe, stay connected, and we have to make sure we're looking out for those players.
"In terms of the season, there's frustration there, but most of us are seeing the bigger picture. It's life and death for some people out there right now.
"I've got to respond to the bigger picture and look at the NHS, and we do have doctors and nurses in our squad and we're all turning to them, they're inspirational."
As Mather discussed, several of the players within the Tyrrells Premier 15s are unpaid, and working in order to play. But for the Director of Rugby, this is her job.
What will this period mean in terms of potential salary cuts or an amended wage structure?
"That's the next stage. They are reviewing that as to whether we can get onto the Furlough Scheme that the government have brought in.
"We also have some sessional staff, and again how do we look after them? Because they're not delivering sessions. We're not a rich club, we haven't got loads sitting there at Wasps FC, because we're not under the Wasps RFC finances, we have our own.
"These are the next decisions. And it depends how long this goes on as to whether I will have a job at the end of it.
"These are uncertain times. But I'm not looking at it like that, I've got to keep taking us forward, being there for players. That's my responsibility as a DOR and my philosophy is to develop the whole human being, not just the rugby player, so this is an opportunity to continue to do that.
"To get them to develop as people. They say better people make better players."
Prime Minister Boris Johnson effectively announced lockdown measures on Monday in the UK's latest response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Personally, what's that been like for Mather?
"I have three teenagers - so I'll leave it at that!
"But actually, we've had supper together at the table four days in a row now, which we haven't done in months. Because my kids are all sporty, I'm out late in the evenings coaching, and we've actually sat round the dinner table, so there's a silver lining to everything.
"I'm sure it's happening in households all across the country. If you are all in together, we are spending time. And as a DOR, I don't usually get that much time to do things like that.
"When we do emerge to play back our sport, I think people are realising how much sport means to them. And how much we need it and how much it brings us together.
"My boys are both mad Chelsea fans, and they're season ticket holders and got to all the games. They love it and they're really missing it.
"It's a sense of belonging, it's social. I'm with the squad as much as I am with my family, and I'm not at the moment. And the weekends aren't the same.
"It really brings it home."