Ahead of their clash against England, Wales Women have paid tribute to the clubs and regional teams that put them on the journey of wearing the Wales jersey.
The journey to wearing the Wales shirt is extremely varied for Wales’ women but whatever the pathway, the honour and passion that cones with wearing it is no less. Whether they joined mixed junior sides at seven or eight, nagged their dads to help set up girls’ teams at their local rugby clubs, or first got their hands on an oval ball at University, every squad member has a very personal tale to tell.
Ospreys forward,Siwan Lillicrap lives and breathes rugby, but her journey to the Test stage hasn’t come easily. That’s why she is relishing every minute. “I didn’t start playing rugby until the age of 17 because the village I grew up in – Waunarlwydd – didn’t have an Under-18’s side,” she added. “When I was 17 I was allowed to play senior rugby, so I started then. My passion for rugby still started well before that.
“My father coached Waunarlwydd and my brother played for them. I used to spend every Saturday or Sunday with either one of them. I practically grew up at Waunarlwydd RFC and that’s where my passion for the game began. I tried to get my mother to let me go to training before I was 17, but she was having none of it as I was underage.
“As soon as I could I was up at the club training and I played my first game a few weeks later. I’ve never looked back. I spent many seasons playing for Waunarlwydd. I was a back then playing centre. I then went to Swansea University and played centre and 10 there. In 2011 I moved club because I wanted to play in the Premiership and I went to Neath Athletic. They converted me to a forward, I developed my game massively, and I went on to win my first cap for Wales at 28.
“I’ve never given up and would always say to someone don’t give up on your dream. Keep striving for it. I’m 31 now and 25 caps in.”
Siwan is now the epitome of Swansea rugby and the Wales back-row forward has urged the city to get behind Rowland Phillips’ side face when they face England a week on Sunday.
Lillicrap is certainly a busy woman. Aside from featuring in the Six Nations, she is Head of Rugby at Swansea University and a Swansea Rugby Club Director. On the international scene, England is Lillicrap’s next challenge but it is not the only thing on her plate right now.
“I oversee both the men’s and women’s rugby programmes at Swansea University from participation up to high performance,” she said.
“We’ve got 300 students engaged in the rugby club. We are now all one club instead of separate ones for men and women. Things are going well and we’re striving towards total equality.
“Both teams are doing well and we’ve got more players playing than ever before. Hopefully we will see the university develop more in the next few years.”
Wales Women forwards coach, former Dragons and Ospreys prop Hugh Gustafson is part of Lillicrap’s team at the university. “Hugh has been working at the university with me for the last 18 months. I’m his boss there and he is mine with Wales as he is the forwards coach. We get on well and it’s a positive relationship. We understand the dynamics we each have to deal with and it works well. I understand his rugby philosophy so our relationship can only help the team, I know what messages he’s trying to get across and can help with that on the pitch.”
Lillicrap continued: “I’m also captain of Swansea Ladies and on the board too. The Whites are fantastic and ever since we have had a women’s team there, they’ve been very supportive. I’m the women’s representative on the board. We have great backing and good luck messages from the chairman. Anything we need, we can just ask the club. It will be fantastic if we can fill out Cardiff Arms Park and get a good crowd behind us for the England game. At Swansea University we have great support behind us. In the autumn half of the club’s members came up to support the team and hopefully it will be the same again for England even though some of them won’t be supporting us!” Wales Women have started their Six Nations campaign with a loss to France and a 3-3 draw with Italy. Next up are England at the Arms Park. Phillips’ side performed well in the Welsh capital in the autumn, claiming impressive victories over South Africa and Hong Kong and pushing Canada hard."
Lillicrap, who was player of the match against Italy, added: “I don’t know how I fit it all in, but I’m just doing what I love – rugby. My loved ones know that and they support me. At busy times like this my mother still does my washing to try and help me out. I’m working long days and time management is key. I’m feeling fit and fresh so I can’t grumble at all.
“Against Italy our forwards carried really well. Our scrum was outstanding and as a pack we were pleased with our performance. We worked hard and got our rewards and our defence was heroic in the last five minutes.
“We will reflect and recover from Italy and look forward to England which is going to be a big test. They are a very good, fully professional side, but we are going to concentrate on ourselves and how we can improve on what we’ve done in the first two weeks. We are definitely on the right path and the mood in camp is better than it has been in the past at this stage of previous tournaments.”
Wales welcome England to Cardiff Arms Park on Sunday 24 Feb 12.30pm. Tickets for Wales Women’s home Six Nations games are on sale via Cardiff Blues box office www.cardiffblues.com/tickets
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