TV cam­eras put spot­light on mem­bers of women’s rugby team

Wales On Sunday - - NEWS -

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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