It is difficult to believe that Dee Bradbury has only been associated with rugby for 15 years, given what she has achieved in the game.
Scottish Rugby President Bradbury, the first woman to hold such a position with a tier one nation, had been an accomplished multi-event track athlete and was playing netball when she and her husband accepted an invitation to the Mull Sevens.
There she watched women’s rugby for the first time, and Bradbury liked what she saw. Her local club, Oban Lorne, did not have a women’s section at the time but that presented only a small hurdle.
“I don’t think they’d even considered it in those days,” Bradbury said. “But one of the girls that I played netball with was actually Jonah Lomu’s second cousin, she was a Kiwi girl. So her husband agreed that he would try to coach us and turned into an excellent coach.
“First night we were all jumping across the puddles and screaming, and by the end of that session we were body-surfing through the puddles!”
Coming full circle
Bradbury and her team-mates in those early days wanted to prove that women could play such a rugged sport.
“In my day (girls) were brought up not to get dirty, not to get physical and it was about challenging that,” she added.
“It was great because you were being very physical, you’re hitting bags hard, you’re hitting people hard and it’s something that we were never brought up to do. So, that in itself was very attractive.”
Fast forward a decade-and-a-half and Oban Lorne’s women’s section has gone from strength to strength, ending the 2017-18 season as Tennents National League Two champions, BT Women’s Bowl winners and proud recipients of the Women’s Club of the Season award.
No-one was prouder of those achievements than Bradbury, the woman who started it all and held numerous positions at the club from kit-cleaner to president.
“To be present (at Murrayfield) to see them come that whole circle from nothing to national champions was the absolute pinnacle of my rugby career,” she said.
But it isn’t only the club that has been on a journey. Bradbury was appointed Scottish Rugby Vice-President under Rob Flockhart in 2016, before succeeding her mentor in August.
The size of the job at Murrayfield ensured that Bradbury decided, reluctantly, to step down as president of Oban Lorne, although she retains an honorary position at the club.
“It’s a huge job and I think it’s very much what you make it but be prepared to be very hands-on and get around as many of the clubs as possible because ultimately they’re the stakeholders,” Bradbury, who lives three hours from Scottish Rugby's home in Edinburgh, said.
“I’m quite happy to travel around the country to go seek the views of the clubs, and go and watch rugby, which is the most important part of it. It’s great to meet some lovely, lovely people.”
Bradbury is not alone in breaking down barriers at the top of Scottish Rugby. Sheila Begbie (Director of Rugby Development), Gemma Fay (Head of Women and Girls Rugby) and Lesley Thomson (Non-Executive Director and World Rugby Council member) all hold senior positions within the governing body.
Best person for the job
She is proud of the union’s recruitment policy but says that what is most important is that they are all the most qualified person for their respective role.
“For me, being a woman is completely incidental to having the job and for me it’s the best person for the job no matter what their gender,” Bradbury said.
Bradbury does, though, offer some advice for young women looking to break into sports administration: “It’s quite simple, work hard, believe in yourself, be confident.”
It is a maxim that Gregor Townsend’s men’s national team would be wise to heed as they prepare for a season that will conclude with Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.
Scotland begin a busy year against Wales in Cardiff on 3 November, and Bradbury is quietly confident 11 months out from a tournament that pits them against the hosts, Ireland, Russia and Samoa in Pool A.
“The ultimate success would be to win the World Cup,” she said.
“If we remain as injury-free as we possibly can then at the moment the success that we’ve experienced, especially the Calcutta Cup win, has put us in a good place.
“And we shouldn’t forget that but we’re a small, small nation. We don’t have the depth of players that other nations have, so sometimes I think that we do tend to punch above our weight.
“But we’ve gained our success in spite of that, so I’m cautiously optimistic. If everybody’s fit, not too much of an injury count, then I am cautiously optimistic that we will do well.”
One member of Townsend’s squad that Bradbury will be keeping a particularly close eye on in the build-up to Japan 2019 is her son, Magnus.
The Edinburgh forward has been included in the party for the November internationals, and his mum admitted it would be special to see the 23-year-old back-row running out for Scotland’s World Cup opener against Ireland in Yokohama next September.
“Oh, that would be fantastic … fantastic,” she added. “He seems to be playing pretty well at the moment. He’s still young mind you, there’s a lot of competition for those positions but it would be fantastic, absolutely fantastic.”
Photo: Scottish Rugby/SNS
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