• RWC 2021 Coaching Internship Programme creates quality deployment opportunities for aspiring female athletes
  • World Rugby targeting 40 per cent of all coaches at RWC 2025 to be women
  • Wales set to face reigning champions New Zealand, Australia and Final Qualification Tournament winner in Pool A at RWC 2021
  • Rugby World Cup 2021 set to take place from 18 September-16 October

World Rugby and the Welsh Rugby Union today announced that former Ireland international and WRU Player to Coach Programme candidate Sophie Spence will join the Wales Women management team as their selected Rugby World Cup 2021 coach intern.

Spence represented Ireland 40 times, featured in two Rugby World Cups (2014 and 2017) and was also part of the Women’s Six Nations title-winning sides in 2013 and 2015.

While still playing, Spence began coaching at Dublin University and Leinster Rugby, and set up her own rugby academy to inspire girls. Since hanging up her boots and moving to Wales last year, she has held the position of forwards coach at Division 1 West men’s side Penclawdd in Wales.

Spence will join newly-appointed head coach Warren Abrahams and skills coach Rachel Taylor as Wales prepare to compete in Pool A at Rugby World Cup 2021 alongside defending champions New Zealand, Australia and the winner of the Final Qualification Tournament.

The Rugby World Cup 2021 Coaching Internship Programme is an outcome of the comprehensive Women’s High-Performance Coaching review, with the report’s findings highlighting a significant lack of female representation at high-performance coaching level.

The ground-breaking Coaching Internship Programme aims to address the lack of female coaches at high-performance level across men’s and women’s rugby through the creation of quality deployment opportunities for aspiring elite female coaches in high-performance environments.

In line with the ‘developing inspirational leadership’ strand of the Women in Rugby 2017-25 strategic plan, World Rugby is committed to supporting the development of female coaches in the sport and has set an ambitious target of a minimum of 40 per cent of all coaches at Rugby World Cup 2025 to be women.

World Rugby General Manager for Women’s Rugby Katie Sadleir said: “Excitement is building with less than 10 months to go and the pools now decided for Rugby World Cup 2021. We want to wish Sophie and the newly-appointed Wales coaching team, Warren Abrahams and Rachel Taylor, all the best as Wales prepares to compete in the ninth edition of the tournament.”

WRU General Manager, Women and Girls, Charlotte Wathan said: “Sophie brings a wealth of experience ad rugby knowledge into our international women’s programme. She’s currently progressing through our Player to Coach Performance programme along with the likes of Rhys Webb, Scott Baldwin, Liam Williams, Gareth Anscombe and Elinor Snowsill. World Rugby’s Coaching Internship Programme is a fantastic boost to female coaches around the world at all levels of the game.” 

Spence said: “This is a great initiative by World Rugby, not only for rugby but for women in sport and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in as we work towards the Rugby World Cup next year. Wales Women have a really inspiring new coaching set-up and I’m pleased to be starting alongside them at the beginning of their journey.

“I’ve met the management team and I can see what path Warren has planned. I’ve been watching some Allianz 15s clips which is a brilliant standard of rugby but it will be good to meet the players and get started. I’m keen to be as involved as possible. I’m looking forward to learning from Warren, and Rachel, who I’ve played with for the Barbarians. I’ll observe and I’ll also deliver whenever I’m needed as part of the team.

“We have an exciting Rugby World Cup draw. It’s fantastic to have the opportunity to play New Zealand in their own back yard and with Australia also in the pool, the focus will surely be all on those teams, which is great for us. We can work hard, focus on ourselves and show up as prepared as possible.”

Spence says coaching was always her aim after hanging up her boots.

“After coaching at University level in Dublin and with Leinster Rugby, I was always keen to keep progressing as a coach.

“I contacted the Welsh Rugby Union when I moved over to Wales to see what opportunities were out there. I knew what path I wanted to take and looked for a senior men’s team as a new challenge. I’ve really enjoyed coaching at Penclawdd. We are on an upward spiral and having moved up from Division 2, we were sitting around sixth place when the season was suspended.

“Then the WRU’s Player to Coach programme came up which is aimed at elite level players in Wales. We are on our fourth session and it’s been really positive sharing experiences and learnings from coaching and, as far as the professional players are concerned, playing at the highest possible level.

“And now the World Rugby internship is a huge opportunity for me and the rest of the interns. I’m sure we will learn so much from each other and the experience.”