England star Tamara Taylor reveals all on being dumped by DMP Durham Sharks - on the day she faces them with new club Saracens
During Tamara Taylor's 14 years at DMP Durham Sharks she collected 115 caps for England, won the World Cup and helped develop women's rugby in the north east.
And so it came as something of a shock to her and the entire rugby community when she was released by the club this summer - effectively told she was surplus to requirements - especially as she had made it clear she wanted one more year of playing before considering retirement.
But in a rich irony that only top level sport seems to serve up, she’s back among the Sharks today, proudly wearing the shirt of defending champions Saracens, who were quick to offer her a player/coach role after Durham dumped her.
And Taylor knows it’s going to be a 'tough' day for her.
"Honestly it will be quite emotional, as much as I'd like to think I could switch that off and focus. I think I'm going to be a little bit sad. As tough as Saturday will be I am fully committed to Sarries and excited for the new challenges that lie ahead.
"It's just I guess what Sharks stands for to me. It's not what I thought it was. It's not the ‘we look after each other’, 'we value each other’, it's not what I worked so hard to make a part of our culture.
It all began at the start of the year after it was confirmed Sharks had to re-tender for their position in the league and the club told everyone they had to re-apply for their job. Taylor, who was co-head coach at the time, did just that.
And today, in an exclusive interview with NewsChain she reveals how from this point it felt like her club, the one that was part of her DNA, was beginning to cut ties with her.
She said: "I started to think there were certain people within the club who maybe, for whatever reason and I honestly don't know what that reason is, didn't really want me to be there. I had been shortlisted to be interviewed for head coach and then the Covid stuff happened, everything was locked down and no one knew what was happening and the advert got put out again.
“I said 'well I know a few people that have been shortlisted, how does it work in re-advertising the same job but you've already got people on a shortlist?' There wasn't much of an answer apart from blaming Covid.”
At this stage Sharks brought in a new head of performance, Gordon Brett, who became involved in the selection process for a new head coach.
Taylor says: "He said the advert needed to go out again and his words to me and to the players were ‘we need to get the best coach for this group of players and there will be a number of men’s championship coaches who are out of jobs now so we need to re- open this process so we get the best coach for the job’.
“To me having been shortlisted in April and the job going out to advert three times in total and then hearing that didn’t really fill me with confidence that people wanted me to be head coach”.
Taylor said the situation then took another turn as Brett said she could not be head coach and a player at the same time. So she decided to pull out of the head coach job so she could play one more year.
"He said. ‘okay, we just need to have a conversation and then we can put you into the squad’ and he made me go to the club and have a one-to-one meeting with him where we walked around the stadium.
"It was a really weird conversation around was I going to back his decisions? If certain people weren’t agreeing with the decisions that the club were making, he needed to know I was going to back them as well because I was an influential person.
“I kept saying to him ‘well what are these decisions that you think people aren’t going to agree with? I can’t understand why this would be our first point of conversation, that you’re going to make decisions people aren’t going to like. You are starting to worry me now, what are you going to do to the girls? Like these are my girls, why are you saying that?'
"He couldn't give me a hypothetical example, he just wanted me to categorically say that I would agree with everything and back up the decisions."
And for the straight-talking Taylor, there was no way she was going to 'sell her soul' in that way.
"I'm protective of that group of players as I've played alongside them. I've coached them, I've tried to support them for a number of years, obviously I'm going to be cautious. I want to make sure their welfare is at the forefront of everything being done at the club.
"So he made me really panic about what he was going to do. I said I have no issue being a player and not being a coach, because that was his other thing of 'well are you even coachable? You've been a head coach so are you even someone who can be coached?'
"Well yeah, I've been coached for 25 years and I've only been a head coach for nine months or however long it was, so probably yeah, it is something I am capable of doing!
"So we left that conversation and I said 'ultimately it's up to you if you want me to play in this team, but you need to let me know so I know what I'm doing. As far as I'm concerned you said pull out of the coaching and I'm in the playing squad and now there's loads of ambiguity so can you just let me know' so he said I'll get back to you."
The 39 year-old then waited another two weeks before she heard back, this time to say she couldn't be a leader in the team.
"He rang me and said 'okay we're going to have you in the squad of 40 but you can't be in a leadership role, you can't be a captain, you can't be in any decision making you will just be a player.
"And I asked ‘what are your reasons for this?’ He said ‘it’s just a feeling I get from the conversation we had I just don’t think you’re going to back up all the decisions that are made so I need people in that leadership group that are 100% in support of this team.
“I just said look I need to think about that because that’s pretty big, decision wise so I did, I went and spoke to a few people and thought maybe it will be a good thing for me to just play. If I am just going to play another season, just to have all that responsibility taken off me and just flourish as a player so I went back to him and said right okay let’s go.”
By this point Taylor had been in conversation with the Brett for a number of weeks. He then gave her medical paperwork to fill in and Covid procedures to go through, all of which took her ten days to submit.
And while Taylor thought this would be the ticket to her seeing out her career for one more season on the pitch, she couldn’t have been more wrong.
"I sent him a text saying ‘oh look I’ve sent my medical paperwork in, I’m ready let’s go’ and he rang me and said ‘oh I hadn’t heard from you so I assumed you didn’t want to play, so I filled your position and you won’t be playing for Sharks this year’.
“My initial feeling was I wanted to cry immediately because I’m quite an emotional person. Even though I had kind of felt things weren’t following the timeline I thought they would of, I thought there was something a bit awry, but I think probably in the depth of my heart I never thought someone would do that.
"Would kind of, in my opinion, string you along for a period of six weeks about something which is very important to me. My club, my players and my playing towards the end of my career. I just didn't think someone would actually do that."
Taylor added she hasn't heard from a lot of people at the club since she left.
"I am so incensed by the whole thing, I'm quite a logical person, if I had done something awful or I had put the player welfare in jeopardy then yeah I deserve to be gone, rid of, but I've honestly hand on heart all I have ever done is what I've felt was best for the girls first and foremost and the team and club after that.
"The players will always be my priority and I just don't understand why or what I've done that's so terrible that nobody at the club [apart from parents of players] has contacted me to have a conversation with me at all about this whole situation."
Taylor posted a tweet on September 9 letting the rugby world know she would not be playing at Sharks that season and was looking for another club and that's when the offers came flooding in.
One that interested her was from defending Premier 15s champions Saracens who then signed Taylor as a player coach for the 2020/21 season.
Despite finding a Premiership club to play at for the season she has said it was 'difficult' to make the transition.
"They had a period of pre-season without me so I have missed all of that. It's a brand new club so it's kind of a difficult transition mentally.
"Before I got there I was thinking of all the difficult bits what I've missed, getting to know the players, are they going to welcome me? Am I going to be able to play? I've missed a lot of pre-season now am I going to find their patterns and how they want to play and they're strengths and weaknesses?
"Am I going to be able to do that in the next two weeks before the first game? So I was stressing myself out and then I went to a training session to get a feel of it, I had a meeting with Alex [Austerberry, Sarries head coach] and I really enjoyed it.
"I enjoyed being back playing, I enjoyed the girls, I enjoyed the atmosphere and actually I have built this up to be something that's quite stressful and first and foremost it's just rugby and secondly it's just a new group of people that I haven't really met before. So as soon as I got that first session out of the way I was like yeah I'm going to be okay."
NewsChain has contacted DMP Durham Sharks who have acknowledged our request for comment