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Elinor Snowsill: 'You have to be successful to capture the hearts of a nation'

By Martyn Thomas
Keira Bevan and Elinor Snowsill of Wales celebrate at full time during the Women's Six Nations match between Wales and Ireland at Cardiff Arms Park in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images)

One of Elinor Snowsill’s most prized possessions growing up was a photograph of herself with legendary Arsenal and England footballer Kelly Smith.

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At the time it was taken, Snowsill dreamed of emulating Smith on a football pitch, but the image continued to resonate even after she swapped a round ball for an oval one.

It is one of the reasons why the Wales fly-half could be seen signing autographs and posing for pictures on the Cardiff Arms Park pitch, long after referee Amber McLachlan had brought an end to last Saturday’s impressive 31-5 Women’s Six Nations win against Ireland.

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Snowsill and her team-mates did not expect so many of the record 4,962 crowd to descend from the stands with pens and camera phones in hand. But they were only too happy to oblige, mindful of the impact these moments could have on the next generation of players and supporters.

“I’ve seen a picture half an hour after the game and there were still loads and loads of people on the pitch,” Snowsill tells RugbyPass. “I don’t think I’ve ever signed so many things and had as many pictures as that and I think that just shows that people are ready to get behind us.

“You have to be successful to capture the hearts of a nation, I suppose, or at least perform. And hopefully we’ll do that this campaign, and I think we’ve got a real opportunity to.”

Snowsill, in line to win her 73rd cap when Wales visit Edinburgh on Saturday, embodies the impact those interactions can have on young aspiring sportswomen. “She was my number one player at the time,” she adds about Smith.

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“Having that one picture that I absolutely treasured and thought the world of, was just a little bit of a motivator and inspired me to continue when times got hard.

“So, for me to be able to do the same to the youngsters coming through now, meeting them and chatting to them and having pictures and all that, it just spreads the excitement about the game.”

As Snowsill suggests, positive results are crucial if Wales are to harness that burgeoning enthusiasm for the women’s game and close the gap on England and France.

Make no mistake, the five-try destruction of Ireland was a good win. It was Wales’ biggest home Championship victory for 20 years and Snowsill admits to feeling a “mixture of relief and excitement” that things clicked so smoothly in attack.

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The credit for that, she says, should go to backs coach Shaun Connor, who only started his new role at the start of March. “He’s found a way of playing that suits us, and has challenged us on a few things,” Snowsill explains.

Against Ireland, the Welsh backs were given a platform to perform thanks in no small part to the physicality of their starting front-row; Gwenllian Pyrs, Kelsey Jones and Sisilia Tuipulotu.

Snowsill is full of praise for Tuipulotu, player-of-the-match in her first Test start at tighthead prop. “It’s hard when you’re a youngster to have that much hype around you and still keep your feet firmly on the floor but she she’s done that,” she says about the 19-year-old.

“She’s just the loveliest, kindest, softest human being ever off the pitch. And then to see her on the pitch, absolutely charging through people, it’s brilliant to see and I think she’s got a very long career ahead of her.”

Tuipulotu would have been helped by playing alongside her club hooker, Jones and according to Snowsill, Wales are benefitting from partnerships forged in the Allianz Premier 15s as well as on the international stage.

Snowsill lined up alongside Bristol Bears team-mate Keira Bevan at half-back against Ireland, while captain Hannah Jones and centre partner Kerin Lake play for high-flying Gloucester-Hartpury, as do Kelsey Jones, Tuipulotu, Gwen Crabb, Bethan Lewis and Lisa Neumann.

“I can’t emphasise how important those club connections are, just the fact that we’re playing week in, week out in probably one of the best leagues in the world is huge,” Snowsill explains.

“You’re used to playing at that intensity and executing skills and decision-making under that intensity, and I think that may be a bit of a difference to Ireland. Half of their team had been playing back at home and not playing in the Prem, and I think you could tell the difference between the players in Ireland who had been and hadn’t.

“It’s a really interesting time period in the women’s game where unions have to try and figure out what’s best for their players, but also what’s best for the development of the game in their country.

“But certainly for us, it helps. The Gloucester-Hartpury girls have obviously come in full of confidence after how their season has been, and then for myself and Keira to be playing week in, week out, we’re just really on the same page with things.

“We know what each other likes and we kind of see the same spaces as well, which helps.”

Having been dropped completely from the 23-player squad that faced Italy in the final match of last season’s Women’s Six Nations, Snowsill does not take her place in the team for granted.

She admits she paused for a moment as she waited for the second half of Wales’ Rugby World Cup 2021 quarter-final against New Zealand to get under way, to “absorb the atmosphere and the occasion” but also to acknowledge the effort she had put in to regain the number 10 jersey.

“I was dropped from the 23 because of my defence and my performance against France,” Snowsill says. “That was a huge moment in my career. It was, I guess, the point where I could have thought, ‘OK, the game is going to move on and I’m done, I’m happy with what I’ve done’ or ‘No, I still want to be a part of this and I’m going to fight’.

“It was very clear that what I needed to work on was my physicality and my defence. So, to go from that moment to then starting as a 10 and playing against the best team in the world twice and, you know, holding my own physically, I think that was probably a personal highlight.”

Snowsill, 33, describes playing for Wales as “a bit of an addiction” and it is one she is not quite ready to give up, not while she is still learning and can contribute. On the notion of retirement, she says “we’re finally starting to look like we’re performing to our potential, and it would be a shame to bow out in the middle of that”.

Her competition with Lleucu George, another star of Gloucester-Hartpury’s rise up the Premier 15s, meanwhile, ensures she continues to improve aspects of her game.

“The performances she’s been putting in for Gloucester-Hartpury this season have been phenomenal. I think she’s had quite a few player-of-the-match awards, which is rightly deserved,” Snowsill says.

“Obviously, Lleucu’s strength is her kicking game, so that’s constantly pushing me and my game. We’ll do a move in training, and I’ll kick it and then she’ll come in and kick it 10 metres further. So, I have to go back and try to kick it the same! So, it constantly makes you better.”

Looking ahead to Saturday’s trip to Edinburgh, Snowsill knows how important it is that Wales back up their opening performance. “Anything other than a win would be a step back,” the fly-half suggests.

That does not mean Snowsill will travel to Scotland with an expectation of victory in what has been one of, if not the, most competitive fixture in recent Women’s Six Nations.

Wales have won their last two meetings, including the 18-15 nail-biter at RWC 2021, and six of the last seven matches between the sides have been decided by seven points or fewer.

“This is the game that’s really going to dictate where the rest of our championship goes,” Snowsill says. “They are hugely going to be gunning for us after they felt they were a bit robbed in the World Cup.

“So, they’re going to be gunning for us hugely, but they always are. That’s nothing new for us and we know if we perform and attack well, that we can 100 per cent do the job.”

A second victory of the Championship would certainly set Wales up nicely, with England scheduled to visit Cardiff on 15 April. And Snowsill is hopeful the post-match signing sessions will only get longer in years to come.

“I’d challenge the nation now that, if we continue to play well, I’d like to see more and more people come out to support us. I’m hoping that next year, we’ll be talking about 10,000 rather than 5,000,” she says.

“There was so much emotion around that game on Saturday that I felt and saw from people outside of our camp, which is just incredible because it shows how involved they are and how much they are with us on this journey.”

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