Being Wales Women's first professional captain: Q&A with Siwan Lillicrap
Wales captain Siwan Lillicrap who played a large role in the contract negotiations between the women’s squad and the WRU tells us what it’s been like in the first few weeks of professionalism, how the contracts came about and hopes for her country in the future.
Siwan, it’s been a rollercoaster few weeks, was there a moment where you let everything sink in after the contracts were announced?
“I still don’t think it has sunk in at all yet. It feels like it’s all happened really fast and credit to the WRU for getting all that through in a short space of time. We’ve kicked into our full-time programme and are now going into week three and it’s been a brilliant first three weeks. But no, I don’t think it’s truly sunk in yet, it doesn’t quite feel real!”
Was it difficult giving up your day job as Head of Rugby at Swansea University?
“I want to say it was a tough decision but it wasn’t. I knew being a professional rugby player is what I wanted to do and to be the best player I can be. The reality is your playing career isn’t going to last forever and so I handed in my notice at Swansea University even though I’ve loved my job there and the journey we’ve been on as a university club. I’m sad to leave that behind but it’s the right decision for me. Throughout January I’ve been juggling commitments and handing over everything at Swansea whilst training full time for Wales so it’s been a busy few weeks.”
Explain the emotion you felt on the day the contracts came into fruition.
“The emotion was mostly the realisation that we’d got to this point and reflecting back over my own personal journey. I was a teenage girl who loved rugby and was down the rugby club every weekend but didn’t have the opportunity to play until I was 17 as there was only a senior women’s rugby team, so to be at that point as a kid that loved rugby but couldn’t play, to having my first cap at the age of 28 and being part of an extended squad for so long, to then captain Wales and now be a professional player, it’s been an unbelievable journey.”
Didn’t expect this emotion. The reality definitely hit home today; how far we’ve come and where we are going ???????. This moment is for the little girl that fell in love with the game. A big thank you to @waunrfc for showing me why the game is so special. ? Now someone pinch me ? https://t.co/3fgvhSoXb8
— Siwan Lillicrap (@SiwanLillicrap) January 12, 2022
How hard were the past 12 months and when did it start to get better for you as a squad?
“What we’ve been through as a squad and the carrot of contracts being dangling for so long, you start to question whether it’s ever going to happen but one thing we didn’t lose was faith and unity as a squad and credit goes to Steve Phillips (WRU CEO) and Nigel (Walker) for trusting myself and the group, and listening to what we had to say and what changes we believed could be made- it wouldn’t have happened without them listening to us.”
“The last two years have been incredibly difficult; going on a losing streak and not winning games whilst not knowing what your future looked like was really draining but that changed during the Autumns which gave us more freedom to perform. Ioan (Cunningham) coming in has been a breath of fresh air for the squad and reinstalled belief in us and the structure to play.”
You had a large part to play in the contract negotiations with the WRU how did that work?
“We went through a tough Six Nations campaign in 2021 and Steve (Phillips) met with myself after the tournament and we had a good, open, honest conversation and he told me he was going to conduct an independent investigation off his own back which gave players past and present an opportunity to speak openly and feed into that.
“We knew we wanted to change our lives as players because the way we were living wasn’t sustainable. A model got presented to us and we were asked what we thought, we came together as a squad and specifically as a leadership group and worked within the parameters that were given to us and we unanimously agreed as an Autumn squad that this model worked best and enabled us to change the narrative of Wales Women and everyone bought into that. We felt listened to and cared about throughout the whole process.”
How does your everyday life as a professional player work now?
“We’re probably fortunate that we’re a small county, so even though a lot of us play across the border, the majority of us live in Wales so it’s not too far to get to the Centre of Excellence just outside Cardiff. But it changes weekly, so we were in Wales full time last week with a weekend camp but this week has seen the focus move on to club and then the following week will be a mixture of both so it depends on our clubs or Wales’ demand. If a player had a game on the Sunday for their club they wouldn’t be expected to be in for Wales on the Monday, so that they can recover. It’s individualised and bespoke to the player.
There are six Bristol Bears players with full time Wales contracts, how beneficial will that be?
“The six of us are now living and breathing in each other’s company and it’ll help us, especially as we’re in positions across the field, from second row, to myself and Alisha (Butchers) as back rows, Kiera (Bevan) at nine, Snowy (Elinor Snowsill) at 10 and Jaz (Joyce) in the back three, so it pencils into the spine of the team.”
When will the semi-professional players train alongside with the full-time players?
“It varies depending on individual circumstances and the arrangements they’ve been able to make with work, studying or club commitments. But mainly they’ll be with us once or twice a week and we’re able to cover off a lot in those sessions.”
— Welsh Rugby Union ? (@WelshRugbyUnion) January 12, 2022
Is the conversation in camp geared towards the World Cup or are you focussing on the Six Nations?
“We speak about the World Cup and our objectives and goals and where we want to be in ten month’s time but we’re moving towards the Six Nations as the next two months will fly by. We’re working hard on making strides forwards and don’t really speak about results, we speak about performance from the many aspects of the game, so that’s really our main focus.
Obviously, these contracts are pitched towards Wales’ performances on the pitch but how much is it about the legacy that you leave behind?
“We’re hoping this will inspire the next generation of girls to play rugby. I feel like our duty is bigger than what we do on the field. How we want to inspire is through rugby performance so that’s always our fist objective.
“When I was a child, I couldn’t play rugby until I was 17 but now hearing girls say they want to be a professional rugby player for Wales in the future and for that to be possible, is what it’s all about.”
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