O’don­nell bat­tles to keep Worces­ter afloat

New War­riors cap­tain tells Fiona To­mas she is not daunted at the peren­nial strug­glers

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Total Rugby -

There was one thing play­ing on Lyn­d­say O’don­nell’s mind when we met at the Tyrrells Pre­mier 15s launch last month. “I haven’t had much me­dia train­ing,” she quipped, ready­ing her­self for per­haps the big­gest in­ter­view of her ca­reer in her new ca­pac­ity as Worces­ter War­riors cap­tain.

In truth, the me­dia savvi­ness of the Sixways stal­wart – who is in her eighth sea­son with the club – is prob­a­bly the least of Worces­ter’s wor­ries. Fol­low­ing the de­par­ture of Eng­land hooker Lark Davies over the sum­mer, O’don­nell heads up a youth­ful side with the worst track record in the Pre­mier 15s, with just two league wins in as many sea­sons.

Her lead­er­ship cre­den­tials will be tested in an un­prece­dented set of cir­cum­stances when the club visit win­less Rich­mond to­day, a week af­ter Worces­ter’s di­rec­tor of rugby, Roy Davies, an­nounced he would be leav­ing the club by mu­tual con­sent just two games into the new sea­son. In an un­ex­pected twist, he will re­main un­til the club ap­point a suc­ces­sor.

“His­tor­i­cally, our re­sults have been dis­ap­point­ing,” read part of the state­ment an­nounc­ing Davies’s im­mi­nent exit. “With the per­for­mance of clubs, both on and off the pitch, un­der in­creased scru­tiny from the RFU, we need to en­sure that War­riors Women re­main a Tyrrells Pre­mier 15s club.”

O’don­nell’s ex­pe­ri­ence will be cru­cial if Worces­ter are to re­alise that aim this sea­son, six years af­ter they won the Women’s Pre­mier­ship in front of a scant crowd of around 100 at Twyford Av­enue. “I was 19,” said O’don­nell. “I’d just come back from be­ing away with Scot­land and got asked to play the last game of the sea­son. We were away at Wasps and my coach at the time was ask­ing me how many min­utes I had in me.

“I was, like, 20, and I ended up play­ing 40. I was just a young pup, play­ing in the back three, winger or full-back. There were so many big play­ers around me at the time. Kat Mer­chant, Danielle Wa­ter­man...and Ly­dia Thomp­son.”

Last year, she of­ten made the 327-mile round trip from Stir­ling, where she was com­plet­ing her mas­ters de­gree, for matches and while she has am­bi­tions to add to her 15 caps, her im­me­di­ate fo­cus lies with Worces­ter. In a league Sara­cens will be favourites against Lough­bor­ough Light­ning in a fix­ture lit­tered with full-time Eng­land in­ter­na­tion­als. Al­ready top of the table with a points dif­fer­ence of 142, Har­lequins will face their tough­est where clubs are con­stantly fine-tun­ing their in­fra­struc­ture to lure play­ers of a higher and, in some cases, pro­fes­sional cal­i­bre, such ded­i­ca­tion to one out­fit is be­com­ing rare.

But O’don­nell is con­tent with Worces­ter’s own off-field in­vest­ment de­spite the club’s form, which in­ter­mit­tently im­proved when they ended a 35-match win­less streak to­wards the end of last sea­son.

The un­prece­dented in­tro­duc­tion of match fees, which are £150£250 de­pend­ing on a player’s ex­pe­ri­ence, was a big sell­ing point. While O’don­nell’s is likely to fall nearer the lat­ter, it is, for now, ex­tra pocket money which will sup­ple­ment her full-time job as a phys­io­ther­a­pist for the NHS.

“If the op­por­tu­nity was there to be a pro­fes­sional, I’d def­i­nitely ex­plore it,” said the 27-year-old. “It wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily be a case of giv­ing up life as a phys­io­ther­a­pist. I re­ally en­joy what I do and I get a lot of ful­fil­ment from it.

“But I’m not go­ing to play rugby for ever. I’ve got the rest of my life to work so if the op­por­tu­nity is there it would be great to do.

‘‘I’d want to keep my foot in the door a bit and do a bit of work, but I think it would be an op­por­tu­nity missed if I didn’t take it up if it pre­sented it­self.”

Bad run: Worces­ter War­riors con­cede a try to Bris­tol Bears dur­ing a wretched 2019

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