Sunday, 12 January 2014

Development key for Wales’s leading women’s rugby club

Athletic celebrate claiming the Welsh Cup in May 2013

After claiming back to back Welsh Premiership titles and starting the defence of their Welsh Cup, some would be forgiven for taking their foot off the gas and admiring their silverware, but not Neath Athletic ladies' side.

“We were delighted to win the Premiership title for a second successive year and we are focused on defending our Welsh Cup crown in May,” said Team Manager Amanda Williams.
The Premiership champions start their Cup defence on January 19 when they travel to Division One side Gwernyfed.
The Ospreylian club has come a long way since its formation as an Under 13s Girls' side back in 2000 to become the leading force in women’s club rugby in Wales, but Williams admits the last thing her side want to do is rest on their laurels.
“We are always looking at ways to push boundaries and develop on and off the park. We are the first team in the Premiership to form a development side which will be key to the side's longevity.”
The Athletic development team has been built alongside a newly formed relationship with Swansea University rugby, with Williams keen to give women who have never played rugby before a taste for the game rather than throwing them in at the deep end.
“In the past we’ve had women with no rugby experience turn up to training where they were quite rightly apprehensive, and you couldn’t just throw them in at Premiership level, but many have a talent for the game that, with nurturing, could develop them into key players for us. That’s really the thinking behind the development squad.”
With around 20 players joining the Athletic ranks from the University side and Coach Demetrius Brooks overseeing proceedings at both teams, the links between the sides are stronger than ever.
Williams admits that Neath would love to expand their horizons and compete against the clubs in the English Premiership week in week out, but lack of funding makes this impossible.
“To progress and develop as a team you need to pit yourselves against the best, and there is no doubt that English teams compete in a higher standard of competition than us.”
“If the top Welsh teams competed against the top English sides I feel that it would be hugely beneficial to the standard of player in Wales, but sadly it’s just not financially possible. We are offered very little assistance by the union in terms of travel expenses,” added Williams
However, this August Neath Athletic will host an Anglo-Welsh Cup at the Gnoll, with Bath and Bristol confirmed to be two of the teams making the trip west, with one or two more English sides interested in being involved.
“We are very excited about hosting the event and to compete with the likes of Bath and Bristol. If all goes well, we hope to make it an annual event.”
With the Six Nations just around the corner and the World Cup in France on the horizon, Athletic have seen four of their players make the cut for the Six Nations squad -including two uncapped 17-year olds in fly-half Hannah Jones and wing Elli Norkett.
Wing Elli Norkett in action for Neath Athletic
“We are very proud of our track record of producing Internationals. Elli and Hannah are two very special players and for them to make the Welsh squad at just 17 shows how talented they are- I really think they could go on to be superstars for Wales.”
Williams has seen the Welsh women’s set up become more professional in recent times but she believes that funding and inequality is still a massive problem for Wales’ elite players.
“Training has increased to 3 times a week at the Vale in Cardiff but in my opinion it is shocking that the players don’t get travel expenses. It should be the absolute basic standard for International players not to be out of pocket for representing their country, but sadly that’s the situation we are in.”
Finally, after several successful seasons, what does Williams believe the next year will hold for Neath Athletic?
“Whitland will be joining the Premiership to make the compliment up to five teams and we will obviously look to win the crown for a third straight season, while we are also working on running under 15s and 18s sides. Our plan is to go into schools and recruit new players and, hopefully, in September we will have four teams playing at Neath Athletic. For us it is all about development and sustainability in order to grow.”


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