Words: Iain ClarkA record breaker since she was young, Margot Wells helped her husband grab athletic gold, now she's determined to change the pace at which rugby's played.
Margot Wells is talking about her earliest memories of the passion that has come to define her - pace. “I just remember beating everybody,” she laughs, but she’s not joking. As a seven-year-old, Margot Wilkie was the fastest in her class of boys and girls. As a 17-year-old, she was the fastest girl in Scotland.
However, not content with her achievements, she wanted to know why. She would ask her father: “Why am I so much faster than everyone?” He would retort: “Because you’ve got longer legs.”
“Speed has always fascinated me, I never knew why I was so much faster than everyone else,” she says now.
Wells’ need for speed, mixed with her natural pace, led her to represent Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in 1978. She has been to the top as an athlete, something she believes is invaluable as a coach.
“The beauty of having done all that is I understand,” she says. “I’ve done the training, I understand the training; I know what it feels like to compete, when a race doesn’t go well. It was just a huge help having been through it myself.”
In 1974 Margot Wilkie became Margot Wells and in the following few years, she became a coach to the future Olympic 100m champion. “Coaching Alan all happened by default,” she says. “We’d be in the car on the way home from training and he would ask me this and that and I could answer all his questions.”
However, it was after her husband had stopped dominating the track that Wells found her real forte. The couple were invited to work with the London Scottish rugby squad in an effort to increase the speed of the team. “We had two days, a grass field and a team of rugby players to work with but we still made a huge difference,” she says.Margot with England rugby international James Haskell
“I didn’t know anything, I knew there were backs and forwards, but I didn’t know any positions. Alastair McHarg [London Scottish coach] would give me a lift there and back and explain rugby to me and I would explain the training we were doing, why we did this and why we did that, and it all seemed to work.”
Wells worked with London Scottish for a few years and then parenting took over and she went back to coaching at youth level in local clubs. “Then I got fed up with the whole thing and I thought I was going to give it up, I just didn’t think it was an enjoyable way to spend my time anymore,” she explains.
“Then Thom Evans [ex-Scottish rugby international] and Danny Cipriani rang me within two minutes of each other, I think they’d been plotting because they knew each other well. I’m thinking: ‘Oh my god, do I really want to go back and do this?’ So anyway, I said yes, and the rest is history really.”
Since then, along with Cipriani and Evans, Wells has worked with a host of top British rugby players. In her current training squad are the highly rated Shane Geraghty, Mike Brown, Sam Smith, Dominic Waldouck, Tom Voyce and Paul Sackey.
“Paul Sackey was 19 when he came to me, he was reasonably quick, but he says I’ve made him 12 yards faster, over what distance, lord only knows,” she laughs.
“He can score tries out of nothing, Sacks. I love that; he’s got a great brain and when you give them the physical bits which lets their brain do what their body wants to do, it’s brilliant.”
So if I want to increase my speed, what can Wells do for me? “The first thing I do is watch someone running,” she says.
“Then I teach them to run properly and immediately they are faster, and that takes five minutes. Obviously that’s in the short term, but it takes hard work to make them stronger in the right places, more explosive and more powerful.
“I make people stronger for running strength, not just for brute strength. I realign bodies, I join them up so that my training works 30 per cent more efficiently and they don’t get injured as easily.”
Wells admits, from her time coaching players in the amateur era to working with the muscle-bound machines who play today’s professional game, the sport has changed massively. Speed is now necessary.
“Every position - it doesn’t matter if you’re playing front row or full-back - requires pace,” Wells says. “It’s indefensible, you cannot defend against speed.”
Wells, through her company, Wellfast
, is now at a stage where she is prepared to share the knowledge that has turned professional rugby players into internationals, not that she’s shouting about it.
“All Wellfast will do is teach people what I know,” Wells says, “so they can go away and do what I do.”