O’donnell battles to keep Worcester afloat
New Warriors captain tells Fiona Tomas she is not daunted at the perennial strugglers
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