Banahan's passion is taking Scotland to new heights

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“When I played, I didn’t play for myself, I played for the supporters,” reveals Matt Banahan. “You could make their week. That’s why I enjoyed it so much.”

Few players have endeared themselves to their home fans as much as the winger did during his twelve-year stay at Bath. The Premiership Rugby Hall of Famer, 37, now derives another source of pleasure from the game he loves: coaching. In August of 2023, he was named Scotland women’s new attack coach – a role he has taken on with fervour.

Retiring during the pandemic was challenging for Banahan, who found the path to coaching filled with unexpected hurdles. “I’d done all my coaching badges, but everyone took their contract extensions, and it was like the book was shut,” he recalls. “Post-Covid, with clubs like London Irish, Wasps, and Worcester folding, the market was saturated with coaches.”

He faced a tough job market, but as one who enjoyed watching women’s rugby, he saw a unique opportunity. “I thought, ‘I could help so much here,’” Banahan says. “The development of the women’s game was evident, but past players weren’t necessarily stepping up to help. I knew I could make a difference.”

His wife, Becky, played age-group rugby for England alongside future legends like Maggie Alphonsi and Nolli Waterman, which gave Banahan insight into the game’s evolution. “I’ve seen where the standard has come from and how far it’s progressed,” notes Banahan, who as a towering-yet-skilful wing represented England sixteen times.

First and foremost, his approach with the Scottish team has been to provide the players with the tools and information they need to become the best they can be. “This isn’t my journey, it’s theirs,” he emphasises, “but what I can do is share what I know from my professional background, and how to get the best out of each individual player.”

Banahan dismisses distinctions between men’s and women’s rugby. “At the end of the day, it’s rugby,” he asserts. “We’re coaching players to score tries, to create overlaps. The aim is the same, whether it’s men’s, women’s, or kids’ rugby.”

Reflecting on his new career, he credits his parents for the passion they showed as coaches back in his native Jersey. “My dad was a great coach, so was my mum – it was bred into me,” he says. “As a player, I was coaching whatever I could on the side. You realise when you’re retiring from rugby, it’s always hard to find the perfect match for what you want to do, but I found that I loved coaching at all levels.”

He assisted former Scotland forward Peter Walton at the Gloucester academy during the final phase of his playing career, working with future star Louis Rees-Zammit and new Premiership talents Charlie Chapman and Tom Seabrook. Always one to seek out an edge, his role with the RFU as a citing commissioner keeps him connected to the game’s laws and tactics, as well as offering a unique perspective on what referees are looking for.

Banahan speaks highly of Scotland head coach Bryan Easson. “Bryan’s the heartbeat of it all,” he says. “The hard work he’s done off the pitch, putting in the team around him, he’s brilliant. The girls realise how good he has been for them.”

Joining up with the camp for the first time ahead of WXV2 in October last year allowed him to start implementing his ideas in advance of this year's Guinness Women's Six Nations. The warm weather in Cape Town was conducive to his attacking ambitions for the team - more so than Cardiff or Edinburgh in March, perhaps - and an unbeaten Scotland took the title.

How did Banahan then find this year’s Championship? “We got a lot of positives out of it and made great strides, beating Wales and Italy away for the first time in 20-odd years,” he says. “We aspire to become a powerhouse like England, but our focus is on being the best Scotland we can be.”

Banahan’s love for the game shines through in his coaching. “Seeing the girls enjoy it and achieving is a big driver for me,” he admits. “As a coach, you’ve got to park your own emotion and look at theirs. Even if someone makes a mistake, I’ve banned the word ‘sorry’, because nobody goes out there with the intention of doing that. As long as we learn from our mistakes, that’s what matters.”