The Welsh back-rower is now thriving in the sport after a late start

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Get to know Wales Women’s captain Siwan Lillicrap

Balancing a full-time job with an elite sporting career takes a lot of work, so anything that helps relieve the strain is welcome. Hence why Wales Women’s captain Siwan Lillicrap is grateful for the fact her mum still does her washing, even though she’s now 32.

“Without the support of my family I wouldn’t have achieved what I have,” say the Wales back-row. “They help me to be successful. I’m often out of the house early and don’t get back until 9.30-10pm, so I’m so thankful to my mum for doing my washing or helping with meal prepping.”

Given all her commitments, it’s not surprising it’s hard for Lillicrap to find time for everyday chores. As well as being an international, she’s head of rugby at Swansea University, overseeing the men’s and women’s programmes at a club with 300-plus members, sits on the board at Swansea RFC and represents Bristol in the Premier 15s having moved to the English top flight this year. It’s clear she loves the game!

Lillicrap didn’t start playing rugby until she was 17 but has been involved in the sport all her life. She grew up spending every weekend at Waunarlwydd RFC, a village club near Swansea where Liam Williams started out. Her dad coached and brother played, so she was there watching or acting as water girl for the men’s team. Yet with no girls’ set-up at the club or in the local area, she had to wait to turn 17 to join the women’s side.

“I grew up with rugby and always knew I wanted to play,” she recalls. “I felt like I had a good understanding and knowledge because of my family and having watched a lot of rugby. A week after my 17th birthday I went to my first training session and I loved it.”

Wales Women’s captain Siwan Lillicrap

On the ball: Siwan Lillicrap takes on the Irish defence (Getty Images)

She started off as a centre and played at ten or in midfield while at Swansea University, but when she joined Neath Athletic in 2011 she moved to the back row. “Definitely the right decision – I don’t have the pace to be a back!”

The switch paid off as she caught the eye of Wales’ selectors – but then came another waiting game. Just as she had to sit on the sidelines before getting a chance to actually play, she had to bide her time to win her first cap.

“I had three or four years of being on an emotional roller coaster. I’d be in the extended squad but when it came to selection I was disappointed every time. As a kid I’d thought of wearing that red jersey, so I kept fighting for that dream. Eventually it came in 2015 when I was 28.

“Four years later I’m still playing and still developing and hopefully getting better. One thing I’d say to anyone is never give up on your aspirations. I had to fight for that opportunity. It definitely made be a better person and player.”

Lillicrap’s progress was highlighted in the autumn when she captained Wales to Test wins over Ireland and Scotland. Having already secured qualification for the 2021 World Cup, Wales used the autumn for development, naming 14 uncapped players in the squad, so to notch those two victories is significant, especially after losing to Spain in their first fixture.

They have also benefited from fresh coaching input, with Chris Horsman and Geraint Lewis involved while Rowland Phillips takes some time away.

“They have a wealth of knowledge. As a player it’s nice sometimes to see a different perspective. It’s refreshing. “The main thing we’ve spoken about is shortening the performance gap between ourselves and nations higher than us in the world rankings. The girls are putting in a lot of hard work and we want to compete with the best in the world.”

Lillicrap also points to the number of new players coming into the squad as an indicator of how well the WRU’s community programmes are working. There are girls’ hubs across the country to give youngsters the opportunity to play when their local club might not have the numbers to facilitate a team.

“I couldn’t take up rugby until I was 17 as there was nothing in my area and now we have hubs to get girls involved. The accessibility is much better than before and the future is looking bright.”

This article originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of Rugby World magazine.

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