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Premier 15s: Abbie and Dave Ward on married life at Bristol Bears

Dave and Abbie Ward
Dave Ward coaches wife Abbie at Bristol Bears Women

When Dave Ward was announced as Bristol Bears Women’s coach, most thought signing his wife Abbie, the England and Harlequins lock, was a certainty.

A formal meeting across the kitchen table was arranged.

“If you think for a second that I was going to sign for a club because my husband is the coach, I was like ‘we need to have a meeting because any club I speak to, this is how I go about it, these are my expectations’,” explains Abbie.

“I would not lower them for anyone.”

Having spent the previous four seasons with Harlequins Women and winning their first Premier 15s title with them in May, Abbie has become one of the best locks in English rugby.

With the calibre of second-rows growing across the country, the 47-times capped Red Rose forward was aware that switching clubs had to be right for her career.

“Anyone that know me, knows I have really big rugby ambitions,” she says.

“That was the reason I originally went to Harlequins – no-one rivalled that or matched it.”

However, the ambition of the Bears to be the best women’s set up in the country and the inclusion of women at their new High Performance Centre in Abbots Leigh finally persuaded the 28-year-old to sign.

The Bears’ four full-time England women’s internationals include Ward, Leanne Riley, Amber Reed and Sarah Bern, meaning they have access to the same facilities, skills and coaching sessions as the Bears’ men.

Abbie says it’s been like this from her first day: “We were sat down with Pat (Lam) in the men’s meeting and we were integrated and when it broke out into small groups we were there just chatting along.

“I’ve been at one club for six years and another for four and I’d never seen their men train.

“Week one with the Bears and to be that fully integrated and immersed into everything is the way we should all move.”

Dave took the head coach job after the club parted ways with former England international Kim Oliver last season.

The former Harlequins men and England hooker has no issues being his wife’s coach, explaining “there’s Dave the husband and Dave the coach”.

“She is one of the most professional players I have come across in either the men’s or women’s game so when she’s at the High Performance Centre she’s there to be a High Performance athlete.”

Abbie laughs, saying she’s convinced some of the players haven’t yet twigged their connection: “I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some of the players in the Bristol squad that don’t know we’re married.

“We arrive in separate cars, our days are so different.”

The only rule about rugby in their relationship is that they don’t talk about it after 6pm on a Wednesday night at home, although Dave smiles and says “sometimes by 6.15pm we’ve run out of things to talk about”.

There remains plenty to discuss before the 6pm curfew, with the Premier 15s new season starting on Saturday, 4 September.

The Bears have back-to-back west country derbies as they host Exeter in week one then travel to Gloucester Hartpury in week two.

Exeter shocked many in their inaugural Premier 15s season, with wins against the top four sides in the league, while Gloucester have remained the most competitive west country side since the league was launched.

The Chiefs attracted a crowd of 2,340 to Sandy Park for a pre-season game against Wasps Women, showing the growing appetite for Premier 15s.

Despite Saracens and Harlequins’ domination of the league, Abbie is certain the league’s success could start to shift away from the capital.

“I think more teams will start emerging.

“Harlequins had the best set-up so were always going to attract the best players, but now more and more clubs are putting more into their set up and coaching environment so now, I hope, you’ll see a better spread of players.”

Bristol don’t have any on-field targets for this season, but Dave says “my target off-field is to be the best program within the women’s game”.

“Of course, we want to finish top four – it’s a big challenge but one we’re up for.”

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