Warren Abrahams and Rachel Taylor were unveiled as Wales Women’s groundbreaking new coaching team last week, with a desire to inspire future generations of talent on and off the pitch.
Abrahams has become the first black coach of a Welsh national team, while former captain Taylor is the first woman to be handed a professional coaching role within the set-up.
Both are conscious of the roles they can play in growing women’s rugby in Wales, although Abrahams admitted it was “probably a little bit disappointing that in 2020, we are still having conversations like this”.
“It's now an opportunity for others to see it's possible,” the new head coach said. “I always believe if you can see it, you can dream it and if you can dream it, you can be it. So, it's a great platform.
“I want to be a role model, not just for black and ethnic minorities, I want to be a role model for everyone who aspires to achieve great things.”
Abrahams, who will be responsible for both the 15s and sevens programmes, certainly has an inspirational story to tell. Born in Kraaifontein, South Africa, he moved to the UK 13 years ago having failed to land a playing contract with Western Province.
He had travelled north without a guaranteed job but was soon employed by a company that hires southern hemisphere coaches and later worked as a teacher at a school in Maidenhead. Abrahams would spend his summers in Otago, keen to experience the game from a different perspective.
In 2011, having picked up a serious knee injury during a playing return to South Africa, Abrahams joined Harlequins, working in the club’s inner-city community programme.
That opportunity led to a coaching role in the Harlequins academy, and Abrahams has since held a number of roles, including a four-year stint with England men’s sevens and, most recently, as an assistant coach with the USA women’s sevens team.
“I had to, unfortunately, get to where I am today the hard way and the long way and sort of navigate my way through all the obstacles,” he explained.
“I'm grateful for that because it's made me a pretty resilient person and hopefully I can just share those experiences with my team now.”
The size of the task facing Abrahams and Taylor became no less great last week when Wales were drawn alongside hosts New Zealand and Australia in Pool A for Rugby World Cup 2021.
In the wake of the ceremony, Taylor described the thought of facing the two southern hemisphere nations as a “real privilege”. But, with the tournament kicking off in just 10 months, the new coaching team do not have time on their side.
Abrahams, who has signed a three-year contract, is keen to provide the squad with stability while building a competitive set-up that will grow and prosper long after New Zealand 2021.
“We're building for the future,” he said. “Ultimately, we want to grow participation. I want my team to represent Wales to the best of their ability. We're going to be competitive on a daily basis.
“The most exciting part of this is Welsh people are naturally passionate people, so they're really passionate about the game. So, I can just feed that passion as a coach, but our environment is going to be an environment based around competing on a daily basis.
“Ultimately, we want to be role models for young female rugby players so they can take up the ball.”
Abrahams added: “Me personally, there's two key things. I want to bring love into this environment because when we love what we do, we are passionate and courageous — and you know what happens when people are courageous.
“So, that's a vital ingredient to this programme, and then most importantly, stability.
“They've gone through [an] incredible amount of change over the years. I want to bring stability alongside my management team and obviously Rachel alongside me.
“We want to bring stability to this, to the Welsh women's team and maximise their human potential.”
‘Exciting time’ for Welsh rugby
Taylor, who has been appointed skills coach on a one-year development contract, believes it is an “exciting time” to be working in the women’s game in Wales.
“Players know what they need to do to get into the set-up,” she said. “It's good now people can pick up a rugby ball when they're seven, eight years old and have an aspiration to play for Wales Women.
“I think that's something that we should be really proud of as a country. Yes, we're always striving to do more and make it the best offering we can. But, I think it's just an exciting time.”
Taylor admitted she had intended to go into refereeing following retirement but “gave it a go and it wasn’t for me”.
She instead transferred her skills to coaching, and was selected to participate in both the Women’s Sport Leadership Academy for High Performance Coaches and the World Rugby Virtual High Performance Academy in the past year.
“It was a chance to talk and have learning sets as ourselves and discuss problems that we face and to share good ideas,” Taylor said.
“It's just invaluable to have those conversations and that level of support, that I suppose, is really unusual. Because, I suppose, there's always that element of rivalry within coaching.
“You don't want to tell a coach that you might come across in a few months’ time everything that you know about the game, because you're always a bit cagey.
“But I don't know what it was about lockdown, but I think it just created an opportunity to share best practice and that was just a really special moment.”
Abrahams is aware that part of his job in Wales is to empower Taylor and help her develop within the Wales set-up. She, in turn, is keen to learn from his experiences as she targets becoming the head coach herself one day.
“That's where I want my career to go,” Taylor said.
“I used that time in lockdown to really reflect on what I've done in my coaching career, [and] it gave me the chance to refine where I see myself going in the future.
“And undoubtedly, I would love to be an international head coach.”