Shattering stereotypes: female rugby champion empowers the next generation.
With the Welsh men’s team in disarray after a loss to England, the game’s all-time leading points scorer explains how the women’s team can make the most of the next season.
Non Evans MBE, whose efforts brought her team the Six Nations victory in 1999 and 2005, believes the ambition and the extra training is the path to success. “When I played for Wales, I didn’t want to just be a Welsh rugby player, I wanted to be the BEST Welsh rugby player. I wanted to be the best in the world. The extra training I did was getting up before work, doing my weight training, doing my running, doing my kicking skills. And it’s about the extra things you do,” she says.
When she was just starting out in rugby, in a university team in Cardiff, Non Evans had faced a big challenge: she had to pay for every piece of equipment for every game. Coming into rugby after an international-level career in judo, the sportswoman was faced with a sport that despite its fanbase in Wales, was severely underfunded.
“Women’s rugby has come a long-long way since i started playing… I had to pay £19.95 for my cap, and if I wanted to keep my shirt I had to pay every time and by the end of my career you got your kit with all the shirts and with the sponsorship on it. Now, the Welsh women’s team have been given a professional contract,” says Non about the transition between rugby being just a local initiative to full-time employment for the women’s national team.
The introduction of the centralised contract system was an important step forward for the women’s game in Wales. It was only done this season in sight of the upcoming women’s Six nations championship in July.
Unlike the men’s teams, which have been established for many years, the women’s teams had to recruit players from other sports and teach them the game from scratch. Despite this, Welsh women’s rugby has gone from strength to strength, with teams like the Scarlets and Cardiff Blues attracting strong players and performing well in competitions.
“I remember about ten years ago, there was an English coach called Jeff Richards who went around and got basketball players, netball players and brought them to rugby… Because they were athletic: they were tall, they were strong, they were fit. He had to teach them specific skills,” says Non. And even though teams now consist mainly of trained rugby players, it was very recently that all the women’s teams in the Six Nations were struggling without professional accreditation.
Women’s teams in Wales are making waves in the world of rugby this season, with many outperforming their male counterparts. Retired rugby superstar attributes this to new facilities for girls to get involved in the sport, but says much more could be done.
She urges that extra attention should be paid to the players diet, to help them reach their maximum potential and gain maximum strength without losing the stamina to run. She says: “We need to get them into the best physical condition possible. You can be the best passer, the best kicker in the world, but if you are not fit enough to run around for eighty minutes or even forty minutes – you’re not going to be the best player in the world.”
Looking ahead to the upcoming Six Nations, Wales faces some tough challenges, but they are prepared to do well. Non notes that the team has been working hard in training, honing their skills and tactics in preparation for the competition. With a strong lineup of players and a dedicated coaching staff, Wales is set to make a strong showing and potentially even come out on top. The growing success of women’s rugby in Wales and around the world is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the players, coaches, and supporters who have helped to make it a truly thrilling and exciting sport.
“It’s the comradery: the women have to come together, because they haven’t got all the money and the support that the men get, but the support is getting better and better and may it long continue,” says Non Evans looking forward.