Sophie Spence keen to learn and improve through RWC 2021 Coaching Internship Programme
When Sophie Spence compiled a coaching career plan in August, she did not envisage Rugby World Cup being on her horizon.
Spence’s immediate target was to enrol on a Level 3 coaching course with the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and to continue honing her skills with men’s National League Division 1 West club, Penclawdd.
As former Ireland international Spence is becoming increasingly aware, however, life is full of unexpected twists and turns.
At the end of November, she welcomed Warren Abrahams and Rachel Taylor to the coffee shop she opened in Gowerton after relocating to south Wales with her wife, Anwen.
This week it was announced she would join the Wales coaching staff as part of the Rugby World Cup 20021 Coaching Internship Programme.
“I’m a little bit in shock,” Spence admitted to World Rugby.
“I didn't think that I would be in this position now. You know, it's fantastic and I’m just really looking forward to being involved from the word go and learning as much as possible.”
Spence has been working with the forwards at Penclawdd, and identifies the breakdown as a particular strength, but is keen to broaden her coaching horizons with Wales.
“[Abrahams] said he wants me to be involved as much as possible. I'm not there to stand and shadow, he wants me to get involved,” she added.
“With Warren as head coach, and Tayls (Taylor) as skills coach, it'll be wherever I can use my strengths to be involved. And, however we work as a unit on the pitch and off the pitch, where I can add value to the team.”
Last month’s meeting at Y Shed was the first time that Spence had met Abrahams, however, she has a longer association with Taylor.
The 33-year-old played Wales eight times during the course of her 40-cap Ireland career, with Taylor lining up in the opposition pack for seven of those matches.
Coincidentally, the last of those meetings was also the final time each woman represented her respective country. Taylor played the full 80 minutes at Kingspan Stadium, while
Spence came on in the second half, as Wales won the Rugby World Cup 2017 seventh-place play-off 27-17.
Defeat was a crushing blow for Spence and Ireland as it meant the hosts missed out on direct qualification for RWC 2021, despite a bright start to their home tournament. Three years on, though, a silver lining to the result emerged for Spence in the form of the internship.
“It's funny, me and my wife were talking the other day, she said it's fate,” Spence said.
“Obviously, Wales beat us in the last World Cup and if they hadn't done that… would this opportunity have come about if Wales were still hunting for a World Cup spot?
“Coming over to Wales, it took me a little bit of time to get back into coaching. I've been lucky to work with Penclawdd men and challenge myself in different areas and get on the Level 3 this year.
“I think things take time, really, to get your name out there and to open new doors. And, I feel very lucky that I've managed to get this opportunity and been selected to be involved.
“I feel really lucky and I'm really excited to be involved and give back to the women's game, it’s something that's given me a lot of joy and passion.”
‘A magical sport’
Following the end of their international careers, Spence and Taylor had the opportunity to line up on the same side, when the Women’s Barbarians beat a British Army XV 37-0 in March 2018.
The pair were selected as room-mates and were able to get to know each other better, chatting about coaching and coffee, while Spence asked Taylor’s advice on her proposed move to Wales.
“I think we've got the same kind of vision,” Spence said about the pair’s coaching outlook.
“We've been involved in an international set-up. I suppose you want to pass on the knowledge that you've gained from other people, and to improve the game even further as well.”
It has been a long and winding journey that has taken Spence from Teesside University, where she first picked up an oval ball, to the Welsh coaching set-up.
Spence was 21, and had never watched a rugby match, when she was convinced to give the game a go. She soon found she possessed some talent and a desire to learn and improve helped her progress via Darlington and DMP Sharks to Old Belvedere, Leinster and full Ireland honours.
“I'm a person who just loves to learn and I'm kind of like a sponge. I just want to know as much as possible and to learn,” she said.
“You would walk into a room and you would never think that you would meet these people in your life [or] be in the same friendship circles. It’s a sport that brings everyone together through the game.
“It’s kind of a magical sport to me, really. I'm just sad that I never picked it up earlier.”
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