SARFC hires female coach for premier men's team
Jo Hull is the new field general for the first 15 in Alberta Cup rugby
By: Jeff Hansen
| Posted: Saturday, Jan 05, 2013 06:00 am
The St. Albert Rugby Football Club is breaking from tradition with the hiring of the first female head coach for the premier men’s team.
Jo Hull will lead the first 15 into battle this season after coaching the Rockers in the Edmonton Rugby Union’s female division and serving as the backs coach for the University of Alberta Pandas, the 2012 Canada West champions and Canadian Interuniversity Sport bronze medallists.
Hull’s credentials include the community manager and national performance development manager in the Scottish Women’s Rugby Union.
SARFC president/player Matt Herod described Hull’s resume as unbelievable.
“She is really so over qualified. She’s been part of the Scottish national women’s team and is one of the highest coaching development leaders in Scotland,” Herod said. “We had a list of coaches we were interviewing and she was hands down the standout candidate for sure. It really came down to her knowledge of the game and the ability to run what we consider is kind of new age rugby, the new fast pace open style game.”
Herod believes Hull is the first female head coach in the history of premier men’s rugby in Alberta.
“Obviously it’s a huge, huge step,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a gamble because the criteria in her resume alone says she will do a good job but the dynamics is a big change within St. Albert, that’s for sure.”
Herod said Hull expressed interest in the position last summer but didn’t apply until after the season ended.
“What she wants to do is take a shot at a men’s team and obviously at a high level. She loved St. Albert, loved St. Albert’s junior program and liked the whole direction St. Albert was going.”
However, there were initial concerns how the players would react to a female coach but those fears quickly faded away.
“She ran a session for us with about 25 key guys and young guys, just a good mixture of players who could make it out. Going in there were definitely some people that were like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if it will work,’ or, ‘How good is she,’” Herod said. “But when it was all said and done everyone was on board. There wasn’t one person that showed up that day that said it wouldn’t work. She runs probably one of the best sessions I’ve ever been involved in.”
And, most importantly, SARFC’s old guard – the legendary Balcony Boys – have endorsed Hull’s hiring.
“They’re on board too. They love the idea,” Herod said.
Hull is in the United Kingdom until mid-January and was unavailable for comment prior to Friday’s press deadline.
It’s a make or break year for the premier side after their humiliating 61-15 loss to the Clansmen in the Ken Ann Cup playoff in the Edmonton Rugby Union. It was the eighth loss in 14 matches in 2012, the first time the firsts finished the season with a losing record since 2006. The last four years since returning to the first division after a one-year absence, the firsts suffered only 10 losses in 61 matches.
It also marked the first year SARFC’s elite men’s team – winners of the 2007 Alberta Rugby Union second division championship, followed by four straight trips to the first division provincial final, highlighted by the first Labatt's Cup in club history in 2010 – failed to scrum down in a provincial final.
“We’re setting up to win this year. That is 100 per cent our goal. It’s not just, ‘Hey, let’s get back to that game.’ We need to make our stamp on premier, kind of like what the (Calgary) Hornets have done. They are not just legitimate contenders, they are the odds on favourites every year,” Herod said of the two-time defending Labatt’s Cup champions, winners of five straight matches against the firsts, including the 2009 provincial final that ended the firsts’ undefeated season and the 2011 championship showdown that halted the team’s 11-game winning streak.
SCRUM BALLS: Eric Wynychuk, the oldest SARFC player last year at age 44, will again coach the men’s third division team. Under the guidance of the veteran forward, the thirds posted a remarkable 7-4 record in league play and semifinal berth in 2012.
SARFC is still looking for coaches for the women’s team and the men’s second division team.
Men’s training starts Jan. 16 at 8:30 p.m. at Athletes Nation.