Across the Laighin: Tania Rosser – Life in the game
May 5, 2022 11:21 am Lisa Doyle
‘Across The Laighin’ is the magazine published exclusively for Season Ticket holders.
The fifth edition went live at the end of March and over the coming days we will be giving Leinster Rugby supporters access to excerpts from some of the interviews and feature pieces.
Sevens, XVs, touch rugby, netball. New Zealand native Tania Rosser has played them all, representing her home country of New Zealand and pulling on the blue and green jerseys for Leinster Rugby and Ireland. Here, she chats about a life in the game and her future plans and hopes in her new role as head coach for the Leinster Rugby women’s side.
Tania Rosser, who represented Leinster Rugby as a player for 10 years, is a New Zealand-born, Irish international in both XVs and sevens but has also pulled on an Ireland jersey in touch rugby.
In her time with Ireland, she won 58 caps and featured in three World Cups including the 2014 edition, earning her 50th cap when Ireland defeated the country of her birth, the Black Ferns.
Rosser was also a member of the 2015 Grand Slam-winning side and would represent the Barbarians in a glittering playing career.
Her love for all things rugby appeared when she first picked up the ball, later having to sneak to XVs training, without her parents finding out.
“I started playing back in New Zealand when I was 15, I was never allowed to play contact rugby, I was very good at netball and touch rugby and I had to sneak out the window at home to go play rugby,” Rosser explains.
“My family is a big rugby family, I’ve two sisters and two brothers and my brothers all played rugby. My mom and dad lived in the local rugby club, but it was a case of ‘rugby is for boys’ and mom wanted me to be a netball player, which is fine, I was ok at netball.
“But I loved rugby, I followed my brothers around to different rugby clubs all the time and that’s when I started playing. I could always pass really well from a young age, I had a good understanding of the game and I just always wanted to give it a go.
“My brother was always throwing the ball at me in the back yard and he brought me around everywhere with him when I was younger, I think I owe a lot to him for all he did for me, even his mates looked after me as well and that whole atmosphere of being part of a team and around the club really stuck with me.”
Rosser has always been naturally drawn towards rugby in all aspects of her life, and would later meet her partner Simon Broughton, the Leinster Rugby Academy Manager, while playing in a touch tournament.
While she has played a lot of different sports, sevens and touch rugby were always the main draw for Rosser. However, her love for the XVs game grew, even if it was a case of having to sneak to training sessions and games, as her parents didn’t want her playing.
“I also met my partner Simon through rugby when I was 16, so it was just natural for me to always gravitate towards rugby.
“Sevens would have been my main background and touch rugby, I represented New Zealand for touch rugby and loved playing sevens, but I had to play XVs behind my parents back,” she adds.
“They were ok with me playing sevens, as I was fast and didn’t get tackled that much, but not XVs.
“They eventually found out I had been sneaking to training and to play XVs rugby and I got grounded for a month, but that didn’t stop me, I still kept snaking away to XVs training and popping off to different games at the weekend.”
By the time she moved to Ireland, her parents had finally accepted the fact that she was playing 15-a-side, now with DLSP in south Dublin.
“Once I got over here to Ireland and started playing XVs they had accepted it and were fine with me playing. The first XVs game my parents watched me play was in the 2006 World Cup in Canada. My parents are delighted now and very proud of me.
“I don’t know what it really was they didn’t like about XVs, I think it was because netball is such a big sport in New Zealand, mom wanted me to focus on that and I suppose in the women’s XVs game, everyone was a lot bigger than me back then and she just probably thought her daughter was going to get injured.
“She had seen my brothers get injured a few times from playing, it was natural for her to want to protect her daughter, but then once she saw me play international rugby for Ireland, she was very proud.”
Once her parents saw how good Tania was on the pitch, the speed and skill she had, they were very proud and one fond memory for Tania, is taking phone calls from her dad in the lead up to her Ireland international game against New Zealand.
“Now it’s totally different, once they saw how I could handle myself on the pitch they were fine.
“When we played the Black Ferns, mom and dad were up at 5am in the morning watching that and my dad was ringing me the week before telling me how we should beat them and giving me some tips and tricks to take into the game.”
Representing her country of New Zealand at just 15 years of age is something that Rosser still takes great pride in herself – this time in touch rugby.
With such an array of sports under her belt, its an often-asked question as to which one is the favourite.
“I played for the New Zealand secondary schools. I started playing touch when dad started up the touch team in the club, as I wanted to play rugby, there was also a lot of the partners of the men in the club that wanted to play, so my dad decided to set up a touch rugby team when I was about 10 years old and then I represented the secondary school team when I was 12 and went away and played for the local province and the national league before making the New Zealand secondary school team when I was just turned 15,” she outlines.
“I would probably have to say touch and sevens rugby are favourites, I love touch as I can play mixed with men and women and compete against them, and they can really underestimate you.
“You’re all equal on the pitch, so if you score a try whether it’s a male or female scoring it, you get one point.
So the first love of sevens stays on to this day, and if there had been either of those teams here in Ireland when she arrived in 2000, Rosser probably would have stuck to those, but there was neither sport readily available to her, so she got stuck into the XVs game here.
Arriving in Ireland in 2000 it was only natural that Rosser would find a rugby club to join and play with, however there weren’t very many women’s rugby teams at the time. So, along with the other partners of the men’s team, decided to start their own women’s rugby team in De La Salle Palmerstown.
“I came to Ireland as my partner Simon got a rugby contract, he had a season with Leinster and DLSP. So I was pretty much in the club every weekend supporting him when playing and all the partners decided as we were there every weekend, why not start up our own women’s team.
“There were two other kiwi girls involved at the time, so we decided to put a women’s team together and randomly George Hook was our first coach, and we had great support from the club. I think that lasted only about two seasons and that team folded and I moved to Blackrock College RFC, as they had a women’s team. So I spent all my playing days there with them and I really enjoyed my time there playing at that level of AIL rugby.”
While playing club rugby with Blackrock, Rosser got pulled along to a Leinster Rugby trials night by her teammate Emma O’Byrne and suddenly that led to an Ireland call-up.
“I first played for Leinster in 2001, again a friend who was playing for Leinster, Emma, she dragged me along to Naas for the Leinster trials and I remember I went down to play scrum-half and the coach said to me ‘We already have a scrum-half, you’re going to play full-back’.
“So I played full-back for the first season for Leinster and then I got called to the Irish squad, as a full-back but got put in as a scrum-half.”
Rosser played international rugby right up to 2010, when she decided to retire from international rugby, before making her comeback ahead of the 2014 World Cup – to play one last campaign in the green shirt.
It was a call from the current Ireland Women’s head coach Greg McWilliams that saw Rosser decide to reverse that decision and have one more go.
“I got a call from the Ireland backs coach Greg McWilliams at the time and he encouraged me to come out of retirement and I played in the 2014 World Cup. I was really fit at the time and playing good club rugby and I remember putting so much work into my rugby that season and Greg met with me one day and he wanted me to get back involved with the Irish team.“
And that campaign ended up being one of her greatest memories in what is a jam-packed rugby career.
“That would have been one of my favourite tournaments to play in, the way we were as a squad, it was more like being around a family. The girls got on really well and we had high expectations of each other and were honest with each other, so if people weren’t pulling their weight in training, we were told and you weren’t afraid to be told either. The lead up, the build-up was all class and then playing in France in the sunshine topped it all off.”
In the midst of a very busy rugby career, representing her club, province and country on the pitch. In the middle of the 2007 Six Nations campaign, Rosser was hit with what she thought was a ‘viral infection’, that put her rugby on hold for nine months.
“I had my son Serge in 2007. I found out I was three months pregnant during the 2007 Six Nations, after we played Wales. I had been sick leading up to it, but the doctor at the time said it was just a viral infection and I’d be fine.
“I remember the weekend after the Wales game and I just couldn’t get out of bed as I was so tired and I thought something isn’t right so I went to see my own doctor, who told me that viral infection I think I have is actually because I’m pregnant.
“I obviously missed the rest of that Six Nations and had Serge in August of that year and three months after I had him I played an international friendly, I was back training about two months after I had him. I was so lucky, I had a really good physio and strength and conditioning coach who got me back in great condition to get back on the pitch so quick.
For most people playing all three, sevens, XVs and touch rugby, would keep you very busy. However, during her playing days, Rosser also decided to take up coaching roles. She explains how she played, coached and refereed games during her school days.
“I started coaching while I was playing. In New Zealand schools, if you are playing any sport in senior cup, you have to coach and referee some junior teams. I started coaching the first year touch rugby team, the netball team and the basketball team. Then when I played provincial schools touch rugby, we didn’t have a coach for our women’s team, so I ended up being a coach/player there when I was 17 years old.”
While playing with Blackrock, Rosser explains how the team found it tough to get the right person for the coaching role, so she stepped up and took on the role of player/coach.
This was a new role for Rosser, she had both played and coached before, but never as one – a player/coach. Was this a difficult role to step into?
“I’ve always dabbled in and out of coaching, and then when I was playing for Blackrock for a few years, we found it really hard to get a good coach one year and I was asked if I would be a player/coach to the women’s team. And it all just stemmed from there.
“I suppose it was difficult for the first season, trying to play and see what was going on at the same time wasn’t easy and I didn’t have another coach on the sideline to be my eyes and ears there. Then in the later seasons, I had another coach on the sideline, so that made it easier. But you have also got to be very objective, which I kind of am as a coach and player anyway – you can’t just pick your friends, you have to pick the best person for the job.
“I was lucky we had a lot of international players at the time playing with Blackrock, so they made it easy to coach.”
Once she hung up the playing boots with Blackrock, Rosser then moved on to coach a men’s team in Clontarf FC, Rosser tells us about stepping into this role as a female coach with a male team.
“When I started coaching in Clontarf, I was the head coach for the J1 team and assistant coach to the men’s team, all the coaches worked together in the club to train all the teams.
“I was around Clontarf for a few years before I started coaching there, as Simon was coaching there, so a lot of the players already knew me and we would always be having the chats in the clubhouse after the games, about how they played, so they kind of got to know me even before I came in as a coach, so I suppose the transition there wasn’t as daunting.
“The players were fantastic, they were so open and welcoming and would always come looking for advice before and after games and when I’d speak as a coach, they would listen and be very respectful and then the other coaches there were also great and supportive.
“It was really good for all of us as coaches to push each other on things the others might miss. It is probably something to do with females having that better soft skills set and mindset, like I might stand at the door before the boys walk in for training and have a chat with them and you could pick up when someone wasn’t feeling great or were a bit down and I’d make the other coaches aware, who would never pick up on things like that!”
“It is sometimes difficult being a female coach in the men’s game, as people see you as a female, they don’t see you as a coach. We won’t go into some of those stories, but my overall coaching experience has been great and I can’t praise Clontarf enough for all their support when I was coaching there. I finished my stage four coaching badges through the club. Overall coaching with Clontarf was fantastic, and I learned so much during my time there.”
Some might say ‘you should never mix business and pleasure’ however while coaching Clontarf, Rosser was coaching alongside her partner Simon, she talks how they got on working together and how they utilized the time to ensure they had some quality time together during both their hectic schedules, even if it was just the car journeys to and from training and games.
“It was grand, there may have been some nights where there were quiet drives home after training, but honestly with him working so much, it gave us that time together. There were often times, where we might not see each other for a few days, with different training/games on different nights of the week.
“So when we were working together in Clontarf, that was three days where we were traveling together, working together, travelling home together and spending a bit more time together.”
While they both pushed and supported each other while coaching, Simon really saw the benefits of having a female involved in the coaching/management team and how he still tries to encourage all clubs and schools coaches to find a coach in that mould.
“It was great that we could push each other while supporting each other and even now, he will always tell other teams to try and have a female involved within your coaching or management team, as females we have better soft skills.
Hearing back from some of those players she coached in Clontarf, Rosser explains about the importance of having an impact on players – not just on the pitch but also off.
“It was funny, I spoke with a male player recently and he said ‘I don’t know if you realise it and I’ve never said it to you before, but I never thanked you for always going over and beyond when you were our coach and always reaching out to see how we were,’ so that was quiet nice and I think it’s very important to remember that males have feelings too and male coaches sometimes don’t see that and just view them as a player.”
“It’s always nice to hear that feedback from your players though, to know you made such an impact on them and helped them on and off the pitch, so that one may have made me cry a little, but it’s really nice to know you’ve left that impression on someone you coached.”
Leinster Rugby Head Coach
This year Rosser has been appointed as head coach to the Leinster Rugby women’s side. Having come through the system as a player and pulling on that blue jersey, she talks about how she is feeling about taking up the role with the Leinster Rugby side.
“I’m pretty excited, I’m actually really proud to be honest, I’ve been wanting to coach that team for a while now. I did assistant coach with Philip Doyle back in 2009/10 which was a good season, but the final got rained out so we never got to play it. It was a bit of a disappointing end to the season, but it was ok.
“I’m really looking forward to the challenge, really looking forward to working with all the girls, there is a lot of talent around the province, but my biggest thing is getting out and spending time with the players, getting out to the clubs and seeing what is out there and giving every opportunity to those that may not have had it already and see where we go.”
Rosser plans on making changes while in her role and the importance of working alongside players to ensure everyone buys in.
“A few changes are coming up and some people don’t like change, that’s ok and we can all work together to make change happen and there will be some giving and some taking and working together.“
“We can already see the quality in our U-18 girls side and seeing 15 Leinster girls make the national training panel, to know you have all this up and coming talent on the way to the women’s side.
“It’s exciting! When we look at the squad I’m bringing through, there are a lot of young girls. It’s trying to bridge that gap between U-18 and senior women’s rugby, and bringing them up to speed on the women’s game.
“I went and watched the finals of the U-18 girls last year and they were phenomenal, they were playing some really good rugby, offloading, speed, skill, fitness levels. The big thing for me is, when you see a player running around enjoying it, that’s what rugby is about. Yes, winning is great but I think if you can see players running around smiling and they are enjoying it, then you know you’ve got a good recipe going on.
“There will be a bit of buy-in needed from the players on how I want to play the game and vice versa, I need to talk to them about how they think the game should be played too, as I don’t think it’s just about a coach telling them what’s going to happen, we really need to work together. Just trying to develop a squad, with a good culture, that they know they are going to get the opportunities and there are going to be opportunities to learn too.”
Rosser has a lot of wishes for the coming season, her first with the team, and plenty of ambition for this year and beyond.
“I want to develop a good squad and to look at trying to play a new style. I’d like to see the ball being thrown around a bit more. But also to have a squad that is fluid enough that anyone can get on and play at the level we need to play at.
“I think this will be a huge development year. The end of the interpros is not the end of the season for me, I’d like to think that there is a two-year and four-year plan, and see the players progressing on. So it’s bringing those young girls up to the senior game, so that they can naturally take over the following year.
“I want to put some new things into place, things like S&C, trying to get that as more of a full-time programme for the girls and maybe having sessions where we have the girls come in once a week for the likes of skills sessions and things like that and trying to get them to be seen more regularly by the Leinster coaching staff.”
Leinster Rugby currently have 86 community staff members on the ground working in our clubs and schools across the province. Rosser explains how she will work alongside the community staff and the clubs and coaches to ensure we are spotting the best talent from all of the 12 counties.
“I have tried to touch base with a lot of the staff and club coaches this year, and I’ve had good conversations about players. Then we obviously have girls coming through our U-18 programme and then there are talks about a girls U-20 area programme coming up, so looking forward to seeing that, but yes its great having the staff on the ground who can be your eyes and ears around the province.
“It’s about working together with the club coaches and the Leinster Rugby community staff and finding the best talent out there.”