“I look back on it now and think to myself, how did we do this? Because most of the girls, the trailblazers that have come through years ago were working full-time travelling from North Wales, which is a big commitment.”
Hannah Jones, the Wales Rugby captain, is one of the top women's rugby players in the world today. She started playing rugby in a mixed team when she was young, but now she is a leader for the Wales Rugby squad. We explore her journey as a player, the challenges she faced in balancing her studies, training, and work before turning professional. We also delve into how she coped with the mental aspect of not being selected for the GB team for the Olympics in Tokyo, and her thoughts on the growth of women's rugby today.
When you were younger, you mentioned finding regular girls' rugby clubs was challenging and the journeys got longer. How does the current level of entry compare now that women’s rugby is rapidly growing?
“As I was younger, I did not really watch women play rugby, there was never a chance to go watch it, whereas I think now, the media coverage is fantastic. Where children can play rugby and can watched us on the tele, so we hope we are inspiring them and potentially being a career path for them if they go the elite level.
I was lucky that my parents were incredibly supportive and would take me to every training whether it was 1 or 2 hours away they really backed me when I was playing a game. I started off playing in a mixed team being the only girl.”
Did you find it challenging to play in a mixed team?
“When you were younger you did not really think much of it that you were playing with a bunch of boys. One or two games I would get some funny looks ‘Oh there’s a girl on the field.’ But the boys on my team would always back me and once they saw me play, they were like - she is a great player.”
What was it like to be called into the Wales national set-up?
“That time I was still in school doing my A-levels, so you had to do a juggling act at that point, but I was lucky that the school was supportive. I had to squeeze my lessons in at school and would leave early from school to go training. My parents would pick me up from school and then take me training to Cardiff. I just loved training and I knew that at point if there ever came a point where I would have the opportunity for it to be my job, I would grab it with both hands, and it is lucky that it has come.”
How did you cope with the challenges of training alongside players who were much older than you?
“I was lucky Dyddgu Hywel put her arm around me and helped me get through the squad and through the training to be an elite athlete at that point. I really looked up to her for the good and tougher days because I was fifteen coming through the senior squad. I did not know what was right and wrong at that time, so I really got guided from the team of players such as Rachel Taylor who was my captain at the time which was brilliant.
It can be daunting to come from the youth to a senior squad, but I think we have built an environment where there are a few leaders that have taken the younger players under their wing. We have Alisha Butchers and Elinor Snowsill. Those types of players really help the leadership group and players feel comfortable within the environment to make sure they are working hard.”
Has being mentored by Dyddgu had any impact on you as a leader to the younger players?
“So, the first game walking into the stadium to face Ireland we had a great atmosphere. We had people from my old school outside screaming and waving their flags. I remember seeing that it was Kate’s (Kate Williams) chance to get her first cap and I remember saying to her when she comes on just to enjoy it, you are going to hear all this noise, try not to be distracted from it, but just to enjoy it. You are going to hear all this noise but try not to be distracted by it. Just enjoy the moment and be present is the best advice I would give looking back on my journey to give to others.”
Does seeing the growth of the women’s game give you a sense of pride?
“Definitely! I turn up to some games and half of the stadiums are full and sometimes it is just parents and friends. We have just had sell out at (Cardiff Arms Park) so it was brilliant to see, and the games are just getting bigger. The crowds at the World Cup games were incredible and it is really moving the sport forward.”
Before turning professional, how did you manage the balancing act of studying to become a PE teacher at Cardiff Met and training as an athlete? What were some of the challenges you faced during this period?
“I look back on it now and think to myself, how did we do this? Because most of the girls, the trailblazers that have come through years ago were working full-time travelling from North Wales, which is a big commitment. At that point I was just so organised and tried to fit everything into one. But I was not the best player I could have been. I was working, trying to do university and being a full-time athlete, whereas now I am the benefits two years into the contract of just focusing on rugby and my body. I feel better, I am training better and hopefully I am playing better but I have not got that stress or worry to go to university now or that I have got to get to work on time because I have rugby as my work.”
When facing challenging moments such as not being selected for the GB team for the Olympics in Tokyo, how do you manage the mental aspect of it?
“It was a tough period of my rugby career not being selected but I travelled to watch the girls and they gave it their all. But when I look back on my journey it was the first taste of professionalism for me, so I loved it, and I was absolutely gutted for a couple of months, but Jasmine Joyce, who is one of my best mates made the squad and I made sure to get up there and support her so that got me through it. I gave it my all and when you are happy that you have done everything you could do, selection is out of your control, but I was happy with that.”
What are some of the strategies you use to overcome tough spells?
“I think being vice-captain and being under different captains and learning from them has helped, I never really had that pressure of having to be named captain as this is the first year that I have been named captain. But we do a few things, we do our breath work at The Green Mile (Wales Rugby Union training camp), and we learned how to deal with that stress and anxiety if you do feel a panic. So that helps when you must make a quick decision on the field or before we come into a huddle, we do three breaths as a team. I think in general, I am a calm person anyway, so that helps as well.”
The women’s game is growing at a fast rate with participation levels at grassroots level increasing. What advice would you have liked to have received at an early age as you were starting out?
“It would be to never give up. Enjoy it, whether it is socially or elite level and throughout the tough times think about your why. Why are doing this? Why are you committing to this? It is a team sport and along the way you make lots of friends. I have made lifelong friends from being a part of the Welsh squad. But the biggest thing is to go out there and enjoy it.”
What advice would you give young players now?
“Not to put so much pressure on yourself. Obviously, there is a career path now and being an elite athlete today is a job, so do not put pressure on yourself trying to make it and just enjoy the process.”
Now one of the most experienced players in Wales squad, you were selected the honour of leading Wales squad for this tournament. Could you describe what that experience was like when you heard the news?
“It was quiet conversation with Ioan (Senior women’s Wales rugby coach) walking down pitch. He asked if I would like to be squad captain and I immediately said yes, and it was a proud moment for me I wanted to ring home, but I had training at the time, so I was absolutely buzzing in training.”
Hannah Jones is a remarkable rugby player whose journey to the top has not been without its challenges. Her experience shows that with determination, perseverance, and the right support, it is possible to overcome obstacles and succeed in rugby. Jones is a true leader, and her story is a testament to the power of dedication, passion, and hard work. We are looking forward to watching the final game this weekend against Italy at the Women’s Six Nations and she will be hoping to lead the squad to victory at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi this weekend.
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