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Snowsill stands strong with WRU: 'If they understood the situation, would they still criticise it?'

By Lucy Lomax
Elinor Snowsill of Wales during the International friendly match between Wales and Barbarians at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images)

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She’s been a part of the Wales set up for over a decade, but only now does Elinor Snowsill feel her international and club career is truly prospering.

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Under the guise of fresh new coaches and the promise of international contracts from the Welsh Rugby Union, the fortunes of the talented fly-half have flipped 360 degrees since Wales’ ill-fated Six Nations earlier this year.

The aforementioned campaign meant that tensions came to a head after Wales finished last and shipped 125 points in three matches to France, Ireland and Scotland, losing against two fellow amateur teams they should have gone toe to toe with.

The 32-year-old admits this period with Wales with the team failing to record a win in two years was an extremely difficult time and announcing her retirement looked like the best solution.

“After the Six Nations I was probably at my lowest point in rugby, in terms of thinking that I was going to retire and losing in the manner that we did was even more difficult, especially to teams that we really should have been a lot more competitive with,” reflects Snowsill.

“But it wasn’t just about what was happening on the pitch, it was about everything that was going on off the pitch behind the scenes- it wasn’t a great place to be in or perform in.

“The thing is, no one else knows (what’s happening off pitch), they only see the results, so a lot of responsibility and blame tends to fall on the players which is really difficult when you’re giving it your all because you always do when you’re playing for your country.”

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Starting for Wales at ten in every game of the Autumn internationals, Snowsill credits the introduction of Dave Ward at Bristol Bears and Ioan Cunningham for Wales as two men who have turned her career around.

“Everything 100% comes from the top and the culture and examples you set as a leader and head coach has a ripple effect amongst the squad and the rest of your coaching team. A huge part has been how Ioan has come into the set-up, his professionalism but also his understanding of us as players which has been a breath of fresh air and almost a relief especially for us senior players.

“If you haven’t got that leadership at the top, a lot of load and pressure and responsibility falls on the senior players and you can almost get too caught up in that rather than focussing on your playing. What they’ve allowed us to do is just focus on our rugby and our performances on the pitch.

“I also can’t thank Bristol enough for how they’ve turned around my rugby at this point in my career. Having Dave and Tom (Luke) as coaches at Bristol has opened my eyes to what really good coaching is, and I’ve learnt so much. I’ve probably learnt more off them and our new coaches in Wales since August then I have done in years in any other setting.

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“You can never be too old or too experienced to learn new things and I feel I’ve had my eyes opened massively to another part of the game. I haven’t played in that sort of environment probably for most of my career and for me it’s made me realise rugby is a simple game and if you don’t over complicate it, it can be really simple and enjoyable to play and I’ve got a lot to thank Bristol Bears and the new Welsh coaches for helping me with that.”

The other turn in fortunes for the Wales players in the latter part of this year has been the announcement of paid contracts. The WRU has received its fair share of deserved criticism in recent times over its handling of its women’s team, primarily for abolishing its pathway systems, limited investment and failing to make good of their constant promises of bringing in payment for players.

However, to pay credit where credit is due, the WRU listened and despite many claiming the contracts don’t go far enough, from January next year there will be professional players in Wales’ squad as we edge closer towards the World Cup in October.

“Going into the Autumn as a squad we were in a very difficult place and the coaches that came in had a huge challenge ahead of them to bring us all together and change our perception of Welsh rugby and our enjoyment and want to be there.

“But I don’t want to dwell too much on the past, we’ve had to let it go as a squad and the complete change in how our union views us has been huge- they’ve started to make us feel valued.

“The announcement of the contracts was huge in terms of how it made us feel in camp. I’ve been involved for twelve years, and these contacts have been floated and dangled in front of us for probably the last four or five seasons but it never materialised. After the Six Nations I gave up hope that it would ever happen in my career.”

Snowsill reveals how she feels about the people still criticising the WRU.

“I’m passionate about this in terms of, I understand what people are trying to do when they criticise it, but for me it’s about understanding the situation and if they truly understood the situation I wonder if they would they still criticise it?

“People need to be aware that we hadn’t received a penny before that announcement in terms of match fees or training time in camp, we were doing it all completely for free as do most other countries playing and competing across the world in the female game, so it’s about putting things in perspective, hardly any countries across the world get paid by their unions to play, so that’s the first thing, we’ve gone from zero to actually some full time contracts where ten people can actually give up their jobs and focus solely on rugby which is huge.

“The fact that we were the ones who fought for that as players, for the ten players full-time and then the 15 players on a bit less, because that’s what we knew would suit us as a squad.

“There’s some players who 100% wouldn’t be able to give up their jobs or wouldn’t want to give up their jobs but just wanted to be compensated for their time or have the flexibility to go down to three or four days a week of work which will massively help them, so we asked for that and the union listened, so that is 100% our decision in how the contracts look.

“Finally, I think putting things in a bit of perspective again. We’re currently ranked 11 in the world rankings, England are ranked top and I know there’s some people in their squad who aren’t on a massive amount of money. It’s by no means saying it’s going to be that amount for the next ten years, it’s just a starting point and that’s exactly what we needed, and I think it’s really important that yes, we do ask and push for more, but actually let’s celebrate it, give us this moment.

“We’ve had so much bad press and bad publicity over the years and it’s hard as a player to read that over and over again and it can grind you down. This is a huge moment, it’s life changing for so many of us and for the future generations in Wales, let’s celebrate that.”

Capped 61 times for her country, Snowsill opens up as to whether she would accept a full-time contract if offered to her and give up her day job as a mentor and coach for the School of Hard Knocks charity.

“I do love my job with School of Hard Knocks but what I don’t love is trying to balance both, and getting home at 10:30 or 11pm from Bristol on a Tuesday night and getting up at six o’clock for work the next day.

“If I’m lucky enough to make the next World Cup squad then I want to be at my best and balancing a full time job with a full time rugby career is not going to be the best for that.”

The enthusiasm and passion with which Snowsill speaks shines through in our conversation, especially when we touch on her kicking. The fly-half took responsibility for kicking off the tee during the Autumns and admits it’s an area of her game she wasn’t able to address until lockdown.

“I’ve always loved kicking because I started my sporting career as a footballer and my Dad always encouraged me to kick off both feet so I’d always have a ball at my feet and myself and my brother would be outside kicking every opportunity we got. My mum would have to drag us inside to feed us and then we’d be straight back outside again.

“My Dad used to force me to kick off my left foot, so I’m fortunate that I can kick off both feet which helps a lot, so if I’m under pressure on my right I can step inside and kick it with more or less success on my left.

“Kicking off the tee is something that I’ve always struggled with, I don’t know why, but it didn’t quite make sense to me, even though I love kicking out of hand.

“I’d never had the time to give to kicking, you have to dedicate hours and hours to get any success from it, so during the first lockdown me and my brother went down three or four times a week to our local rugby pitch, Cardiff Quins on the pitch where I started my rugby career and did hours and hours or kicking. We took it right back to scratch and funnily enough I found a tee in the bushes there that had been discarded, I gave it a go, tried kicking off it and was like ‘this is the one for me!’, and I still kick off this little green spikey tee now and it was one I was kicking off during the internationals,” Snowsill says with a smile.

And looking at results from the Autumn it’s not just Snowsill’s personal performances which have been transformed, Wales had a successful November campaign recording wins over Japan and South Africa, only to fall short against world number four ranked side Canada.

“I don’t think it would have been best for us as a squad to have beaten Canada as it would have possibly given us a false sense of where we are, and we are very realistic in knowing that we have a lot of work ahead of us, but if we can beat teams like Japan and South Africa after only a month together with all these new plays and coaching structure, then imagine what we can do with twelve months together!”

Snowsill is also confident about where Wales is heading in the future.

“Wales are in as good a place as we can be right now. I think we’re only going to get better the more time we have with these coaches and the more time we have to embed structures.  You’ve got to look at England and see how long Simon Middleton has been in his job, those players know exactly what he wants of them and they’ve been playing those patterns for years which allows you to take your game to the next level.

“We’ve got to accelerate our bond together as a team and with the coaches, and I think we will. I think with the investment the union has given us and them being behind us, I’m hoping that you’ll see a much better, much improved Wales over the next twelve months.”

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