While head coach Kingsley Jones oversees the Canadian team on the field, Alana Gattinger’s job is to ensure everything else runs smoothly for the Canadian men at the Rugby World Cup.
The 30-year-old from Whitby, Ont., is Canada’s team manager in Japan – part quartermaster, part concierge, part team representative for the 51-person touring party (31 players and 15 staff, plus liaison officers, security advisers and interpreter).
“I would say over all, I’m a problem-solver,” Gattinger said from Japan. “I do all the planning ahead of arrival. Essentially, I handle off-field stuff – all the hotels, transportation, bookings, all of our travel plans. I leave it to the coaches to handle the rest of the stuff on the field.
“So, I essentially just facilitate, making sure that everyone has what they need to be successful.”
Rugby Canada says Gattinger is the first female team manager at a World Cup, though, other teams have had women serve in other roles.
“It depends where you are, but I think for the most part I haven’t seen too many barriers,” she said. “I put my head down and get the work done. I have all the respect in the world from my teammates, our players and staff. No one treats me differently.”
Jones says Gattinger makes life a lot easier on tour.
“In terms of commitment and hard work, she’s everything we value,” the former Wales captain said. “She sets the example. She’s one of the hardest-working people I’ve worked with.”
“She’s very capable,” he added. “She has the respect of everyone in the group – coaches, players. She’s so diligent, she won’t miss a thing.”
Gattinger and Michael Deasy, Canada’s strength and conditioning coach, toured the team’s match venues, training sites and hotels in advance of the tournament that runs through Nov. 2.
“We’ve got our bearings and we know that all of them are great set-ups,” she said.
There are more than a few stops with the Canadians moving from Nagato to Fukuoka, Oita, Kobe and then Kamaishi during the pool stage.
Canada opened with a 48-7 loss to Italy on Thursday and will face powerful New Zealand on Wednesday.
Canada was the last team to qualify for the 20-country tournament, surviving a repêchage event in France last November.
“Qualifying late was a bit of a challenge, just with having less time to plan everything,” Gattinger said. “But the tournament organizing committee and World Rugby did a great job in getting all the venues set up … There was no issues from our side using what was assigned to us.”
Team managers also attend annual World Rugby meetings after the November test window to get updates.
The goal is to anticipate issues before they become problems.
If the bus is late, Gattinger is the first person people look at. At the team’s hotel in Nagato prior to the first match against Italy, beds had to be added since many of the rooms had tatami sleeping mats.
“There’s always something challenging that you didn’t know before, whether it’s losing baggage and trying to facilitate that through airlines or different cultural things in the various places we go to. It’s quite interesting to work in different environments, That’s what keeps the job fresh and exciting.”
As far as food goes at the World Cup, the Canadian team came up with a “very detailed menu” for their host hotels. It features both western foods, as well as local options for more adventurous players.
“And a lot of them are quite excited to try the food,” she said.
In each city, the Canadians have planned a community event to engage the locals.
“The players love doing it,” Gattinger said. “They get to teach the kids how to play rugby, and kind of remind themselves why they started playing as well when they were younger.”
Gattinger meets with tournament match commissioners prior to games. World Cups run on a tight schedule, with worldwide TV and other demands.
“I know what the team needs … from our end, and then can fight for things that we need if something’s not arranged already,” she said.
There is little down time. During games, she is on the sidelines looking after substitutions as instructed by the coaching staff.
Gattinger joined Rugby Canada as an intern in 2012, while doing her master’s degree in sports management at the University of Ottawa.
“That’s when I really fell in love with the sport. The culture and the people, it’s something I hadn’t experienced before. And I felt very lucky to be a part of it,” she said. “It’s a little family, whether it’s the Rugby Canada union itself or whether it’s part of the team.
“I really feel like we’re all working toward the same goal. Everyone has the same values of respect, discipline and solidarity, things like that that are the values of rugby. I just fell in love with that and I was inspired to continue working in it.”
She worked her way up the ladder, initially hired on as co-ordinator of events and team services. That meant ensuring visiting and Canadian teams had what they needed when Rugby Canada played host for games – from booking hotels and transportation, to massage services.
“For me, that was a great insight into how teams work,” she said. “I was able to see a variety of teams, and how they function and what they need.”
Jennifer Smart was a mentor and her first boss at Rugby Canada. Smart is also working at the World Cup, serving as a match manager at Tokyo Stadium.
Gattinger started travelling with the senior men in November, 2014, and was part of the Canadian party at the 2015 World Cup, serving in logistics and supporting then-team manager Gareth Rees, a World Rugby Hall of Famer, who is serving as Canada’s media manager in Japan.
She was elevated to her current position in the fall of 2017, when Jones was appointed head coach. The two work closely together and Gattinger, now based out of Langford, B.C., has a good handle on what he wants.
“He’s a great people person,” she said. “I guess he sees the best in people and helps them to pull that out of themselves. It’s been a pleasure to work with him, to be honest. He’s a great support for me.”
She also has kinds words for Japan as tournament host.
“The Japanese people have been so welcoming so far,” she said. “All of my previous experiences in Japan have been really positive. So I’m really excited to see the guys get to experience that.”