Sioned Harries

Sioned Harries' career with Wales now spans 12 seasons. Pic: Getty Images.

A Dozen Years Of Ups, Downs, And Rising Again For Wales Legend Sioned Harries

By David Parsons

Sioned Harries’ first trip to Scotland for the Six Nations was 12 years ago in her first year in the Wales Women’s team.

That was a different world, with the women’s teams from all the nations playing as amateurs and second-class citizens. Not anymore!

As she heads to the Edinburgh Rugby Stadium, sitting cheek by jowl with Murrayfield and home to the Scottish capital city’s professional men’s team, she is looking forward to winning a 71st cap in a Welsh team that has been transformed.

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Fifteen months on from the first 12 professional contracts handed out to Welsh players, head coach Ioan Cunningham now trains a team that boasts 25 full-timers and other players, like schoolteacher Harries, on specially tailored deals.

“I never thought this would be possible. I knew the girls were deserving of this, and often I wondered why they couldn’t have it. It has taken a long time, but I never could have imagined it would get to this,” said Harries.

“When I started teaching, if I went away to play for Wales on a Friday and came back on the Monday, nobody would have known I’d been away or why. Now it is all over the media, the games are televised live, young girls and even the boys know why I’m not there.

“When I come back it is constant questions. The older boys come up and say they’ve ‘You Tubed’ me – everyone is invested in it now, which is great.

“The time and the investment is so different as well. When I first started, we were training from 4-9pm in the evenings. There were three coaches and a physio, no nutritionist, barely an S&C coach and no psychologist.

“We still thought it was great to be playing for Wales Women, but looking back I am much more appreciative of how far it has come. The support we have now compared to 10 years ago is unbelievable, quite surreal.”

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That investment from the WRU delivered a third place finish in last year’s TikTok Six Nations – this is the second year the women’s tournament has had a title sponsor and it is being played in its own, stand-alone position in the rugby calendar – a quarter-final berth at the World Cup earlier in the season and a massive, morale boosting win over Ireland in Round 1 of this year’s championship.

The 33-year-old Harries remains one of Wales best and most experienced forwards and will once again be a key player in Scotland as Wales go in search of back-to-back wins after the 31-7 triumph over the Irish last weekend.

“It wasn’t our best ever result last weekend, but it was the first time for a while I’ve been in a Welsh jersey and felt everything was going our way. Everything we spoke about in the week – staying on top, playing with momentum, line speed – meant clicked,” said Harries.

“The only thing we didn’t do was stay at it in the second half. We’ve spoken about that and we need to be performing at that level for at least 60 minutes, rather than the 45 we managed.

“The first half was one of the best games people say they had seen us play. Playing for Wales Women at the moment is fantastic and it is a great time to be a women in Wales playing rugby – the trajectory of the rugby and support behind us in on the up.”

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So how do you quantify the difference that contracts have made. The statistics prove how much performances and results have improved, but there is also one other metirc that shows the difference the extra time, training and guidance is having.

“You can see the difference the contracts are making. There were only 12 last year and now there are 25, which has allowed us to invest more time with each other,” added Harries.

“We are able to train harder and work longer. We were given a stat last week with regards to muscle gain and fat loss in the squad.

“We were told we’d lost the equivalent of a donkey in fat and gained the equivalent of a family Labrador in muscle. There are huge differences in the physical make- up of the squad from the World Cup, not just from last year.

“The younger players in the squad coming through are constantly keeping us all on our toes. There is no room for complacency or error in this squad anymore.

“Receiving a contract isn’t enough – you have to perform. You can see that from the fact there are some girls in the match day squad who aren’t on a contract selected over some who are.

“Having a contract doesn’t keep you safe. Ioan (Cunningham) will reward performances and effort – you have to earn the jersey.”

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Despite combining her teaching role with playing professionally, Harries is eying up a fifth World Cup in two years time, when it is once again hosted in England. Before then, though, she intends keeping her focus firmly fixed on the Scots.

“We won’t be resting on our laurels after the Ireland performance. We expect Scotland to be a better team, and to put up a better performance against us than the Irish managed, but for us it is all about consistency, momentum and putting in the right sort of performance,” said Harries.

“They are completely different to the Irish and I feel they could be one of our toughest opponents this season. That’s based on the context of the game.

“They were very disappointed at the way they lost to us in the World Cup and they will still be very bitter about that. They are also coming off a big loss to England, so that is only going to make them tighter.

“We are playing away and their emotions will be running high, which is going to make them dangerous. They are never easy to against play home or away, they always bring a different beast to the game.”

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