TV cameras put spotlight on members of women’s rugby team
W OMEN’S rugby has come a long way over the last decade. More females are playing the sport than ever in Wales and every Sunday thousands of players, coaches and volunteers take to the roads to play against each other.
One club which is testament to the recent boom in the women’s game is Senghenydd Sirens, a team set up by Senghenydd RFC four years ago.
The vast majority of the players who formed the original team had never played the game before, neither during childhood or as adults. From those embryonic days, the team quickly grew and now boasts 33 players among its growing ranks.
“I’ve been there from day one and it’s been nice to watch the team grow and everybody improve so much,” says team captain and mum-of-two Keighlee Williams, who since starting with the Sirens has also represented the Gwent region, Dragons.
“We have a good blend in our team, with people of all shapes and sizes. A lot of people think, ‘I’m too unfit to play’, or, ‘I’m too big’, ‘I’m too small’, but you need that mixture in every team.
“The rugby Senghenydd.”
Whatever the successes and failures of the Sirens in years to come, last season will always be one to remember for the team. For one season only, they were taken under the wing of a famous new mentor.
With coach Danny Johnson forced to step down at the start of the season due to illness, the club’s SOS call for a new coach was answered by former Wales and British and Irish Lions star Mike Phillips.
Documenting it all were cameras from television production company Orchard, and viewers can see how they got on in a new six-part series, Mike Phillips a’r Senghenydd Sirens, which continues on Wednesday evening on S4C.
Second-row and mum-of-two Ann-Marie Griffiths, who works as a teaching assistant at Ysgol Ifor Bach in Abertridwr, said: “Everyone was so excited when Mike came to our first session. He wasn’t afraid to help out club is massive in a wild bunch like us and he came to know us well.
“It was a brilliant season for us. He helped us with our skills and taught us a lot of team moves.
“The cameras were at my house a fair bit so I had to tidy the house a few times! But it’s good to advertise the fact that women play rugby and hopefully more women will see us and want to play.
“I think some people are scared to play because it looks so rough, but if you do it right, then you’re less likely to get injured.”
With the series being filmed dur- ing the last season of Mike’s playing career when he represented English Premiership side Sale Sharks, the boy from Bancyfelin in Carmarthenshire regularly made his way down from his Manchester home to the Aber Valley for training and matches with the Sirens.
He provided support for the team’s new coach, Lloyd Davies, by sharing some of the wisdom accrued over a 14-year professional career as one of the planet’s most menacing scrumhalves.
And as well as Mike, the team also benefited from further training ses- sions with the likes of Wales defence coach Robin McBryde, Wales Women’s head coach Rowland Phillips, and current internationals Cerys Hale, Elinor Snowsill and Lloyd Williams, who will appear during the course of the series.
Twenty-four year-old centre Cerys Yates, who lives in nearby Gilfach, said: “Mike made a big difference for us last season and so did the other coaches, like Rowland Phillips and Cerys Hale. Robin McBryde came as well and he was hilarious.”
“I was honoured when Mike turned up to our first training ses- sion”, said prop Claire Walker, whose three sons all play for Senghenydd’s junior teams.
“He’s taken time out of his own life to come down to us lot.
“When you meet someone like Mike, you’re just in awe of him because of what he’s achieved, and he’s sitting down with you, having a pint and asking how’s your family, so it’s quite surreal.”
Having moved to Senghenydd 10 years ago, Claire contemplated joining the village team to make friends and help get fitter – but it was after a gentle push from her boys that she
Mike Phillips with the Senghenydd Sirens
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