Emotional season end for Holt’s female rugby coach Penny

ALL-STAR LINE-UP: Penny Chapman poses for the camera on Saturday with a quartet of internationals wh

ALL-STAR LINE-UP: Penny Chapman poses for the camera on Saturday with a quartet of internationals who were there to watch Holts Harrison Cup match with Diss. Pictured from left to right are Tom Croft, Tom Youngs, Penny, Toby Flood and Ben Youngs. Picture: STUART YOUNG - Credit: Archant

When Holt entertained Diss on Saturday in the traditional end-of-season Harrison Cup fixture it was an emotional occasion for trail-blazing coach Penny Chapman.

Having formed half of a successful double act with Ed Steed for the past six seasons, Penny has decided to leave her role to focus on commitments at the Hunny Bell pub in Hunworth, where she is general manager. During her time with the club Holt have risen from a mid-table Eastern Counties One side to a competitive London 2NE outfit, with husband and team manager Sean Chapman, who is also standing down, another key member of the set-up.

'Rugby has been my life for over 10 years now and in that time I have worked for both Saracens and the RFU in rugby development, which has allowed me to work with some great coaches, including Brian Ashton,' said Penny, one of the few female coaches in the country working at this level.

'I was fortunate six seasons ago that the then chairman, Chris Harrison, took a punt on me, when Holt were looking for a coach to work alongside Ed Steed, although I didn't give him much choice. I had just started working for the RFU and when he asked me if I knew any good coaches, I said 'Yes, me!' At that point I hadn't even met Ed but fortunately we struck up a great friendship and coaching partnership from the start, with our strengths and approach to the game meshing well.'

Chris Harrison said of his decision to appoint a female coach: 'It did cause a bit of stir at the time amongst some club members, including my dad (Edward Harrison), who was one of the founders of the club, but Penny's infectious enthusiasm and dedication soon won everybody over and she proved to be a great choice.'

Steed added: 'Working in partnership with Penny at senior level since I joined the club has been a very enjoyable and rewarding experience and she will be difficult to replace both as a coach and a friend within our rugby family. Both Sean and Penny have been invaluable assets and will be sorely missed by everyone at the club. I would like to thank them for everything they have done at Holt and wish them both all the best for the future.'

Current club chairman Guy Roper, said of the couple: 'Penny has been an outstanding coach for Holt, raising expectation levels through her dedication and enthusiasm for the game. She developed a formidable coaching partnership with Ed and the club is in a much better position because of her all inclusive approach both on and off the pitch, which will prove difficult to replace. Sean has also been instrumental in developing Holt RFC and we have been extremely lucky to have a man of his calibre at the club over the past few years.'

Most Read

Penny said of her time at Holt: 'It has been one of the best periods of my life. Both Sean and I have made some great friendships, which I'm sure will last a lifetime. I'm sure every coach in any sport would like to choose the manner and timing of their leaving but I'm among the fortunate minority who have got to do this. I am now looking forward to watching matches from the other side of the barrier and giving Ed some jip!'

Holt have appointed David Bailey to succeed Penny, with Steed now becoming sole head coach. Roper said of the former Bedford Blues and Norwich prop and current Head of Rugby at Gresham's School: 'Holt is extremely lucky to be able to appoint somebody of David's calibre to follow on from Penny and the great work she has done.'