Ward was announced as Bristol’s coach in April and will start his role next season, and ahead of Sunday’s final between Harlequins and Saracens he says women’s rugby is moving from strength to strength
The 2020/21 season of the Premier 15s has been the most competitive yet and it will see its first game broadcast on a TV channel this weekend when Harlequins take on Saracens in the final.
BT Sport airing the match is just one example of how women’s rugby is going from strength to strength and Bristol Bears’ new head coach Dave Ward has witnessed it firsthand.
Ward, who is a player/coach for Championship club Ampthill but will hang up his boots at the end of the season after a 17-year rugby career, is married to Abbie Ward who plays for Harlequins.
As a partner of a player and a fan of the game, Ward has seen the sport improving but also has noted ways in which it can continue to grow. While sat in the stands at The Stoop for Quins’ 25-14 semi-final win over Wasps last weekend, he saw the impact having fans in the stadium can have on growing the audience for the game.
He said: “I’ve been watching the women’s game for a long time and it’s on the up and up. The men’s game progresses slightly every season, the women’s game over the past three years has gone through the roof and again I saw both semi-finals at the weekend – fantastic games of rugby.
“I had four guys sat behind me that I was ear wigging to, it was their first women’s rugby game. They were like ‘oh my god this is unbelievable. What a try, look at this line-out, and they scrum’. I was like ‘yes they scrum as well!’.
“It was brilliant to listen to the conversation but also for them then going on their phones and booking tickets for Kingsholm [Gloucester’s home ground that is hosting the final] which I thought was a massive boost for the girls, not only playing but for women’s rugby in general.”
Getting fans in the stadium is just one way in which Ward believes the women’s game can progress further, with media and TV coverage also being highly important.
“I would love to see more games on TV,” he added. “I know the semi-finals were on the BT Sport app and BT are massively behind the game.
“But if the Quins vs Wasps and Loughborough vs Saracens games were on the TV at the weekend, I think we could have picked up five to 10’000 followers just from those two games. They were fantastic games of rugby.
“To get people in the stadiums as well but also, I know I’m bias but I love rugby. I always have. To go to a rugby match with both sets of supporters sitting side by side, have a drink, have a good time and talk about it afterwards [is great].
“Meet the rugby players afterwards, I think rugby players are a lot more accessible than footballers which is another massive draw for the game. For the girls [at the weekend] they all came to the side, they couldn’t integrate as much as they usually would because of Covid but the fans got their pictures.
“They could see the girls up close, speak to the girls who are playing the game, they are just normal girls at the end of the day. Inspire the next generation, it’s just massively important and as I said for me a day out at the rugby, you can’t beat it.”
Ward will be spending many days at a Premier 15s game day next season after he was announced as Bristol’s new coach in April, taking over from Kim Oliver.
He will start his role next season and is charged with improving the team’s league position after they finished eighth this season. He already has ideas about how to improve the side.
Ward said: “For me, simply, it’s about going back to basics. I know it’s not a very punchy answer, really go back to basics. I watched them against Wasps [Bristol lost 62-12]. There was so much endeavour from the girls, massive amount of effort but just a couple structural things let them down.
“Little bit of individual indecision as well. So just clearing up that decision-making element I think from my side as coach.
“Also looking at it from a player perspective. I’ve chatted to a lot of players, I think I’ve caught up with 15 players already which has been great. They are all keen to hear my ideas which is brilliant.
“Obviously move from then on, the potential we have got in the squad [is huge]. To maximise that first we have to get the girls on field and get them pointing in the right direction.
“That’s for me to do in pre-season and that involves a lot of hard work. Already talking to the girls it’s something they are massively keen on.”
Before next season though Ward has to say goodbye to playing the game he loves and he will compete in his last game in the Championship against Bedford Blues this Saturday.
While he confirms he will be full-time at Bristol next season, he did hint there could be some playing in his future.
“I’ve got one more game left and I’m very happy to have one more game left. I’ve had a fantastic playing career, that’ll be me hanging up the boots.
“There might be a few Sevens tournaments down the line but certainly my full focus is on Bristol at the moment.”