Wales’ campaign in the Women’s Six Nations championship was disrupted when their final match against Scotland was postponed due the coronavirus outbreak. It means frustration for Wales and for their busy prop Cerys Hale who has juggled work and four international matches throughout the tournament as she tells Graham Thomas.
Cerys Hale is in the middle of a Six Nations campaign and reveals that for a teacher dealing with challenging schoolkids the involvement can have certain benefits.
“They respect me a bit more when the games are on,” says the Wales tight-head prop with a smile. “They think I’m hard!
“If someone cheeks me, then someone else will tell them to be careful because I’m hard! I just go with it. It works for me!”
When she is not packing down against opponents trying to put her on the back foot, then Hale is busy teaching maths to children in Caerphilly in a pupil referral unit.
The days are demanding, but this is her chosen career path as it fits more seamlessly into also being an international rugby player, than if she was teaching in a mainstream school.
In the unit, the school day is condensed and finishes at 2.00pm, with classes of no more than eight pupils. That allows the 26-year-old Gloucester forward – who won her 29th cap against England – to prepare her lessons and do her safeguarding reports in the late afternoon.
Then, she can jump in a car and head for Wales training in Cardiff, without having the mountains of marking she used to have to deal with when she was teaching at Brynmawr Comprehensive.
“It helps with the rugby, to balance out my time. The job is very challenging, but in the evening I don’t have an awful lot of marking, because there are not so many pupils in the school.
I watched a totally committed Welsh performance today against a Full-time English Women’s outfit. They battled all game and the scrummaging was outstanding – even at the end when the English had added their ‘Finishers!’. Cerys Hale – Outstanding!!! #Proud pic.twitter.com/fvZq2908JB
— Patrick Brunnock (@BrunnpPatrick) March 7, 2020
“If I didn’t do it this way, I think I might struggle. At first, the kids weren’t too fussed by me playing for Wales. But now that a couple of the boys go to rugby training themselves, a few more have mentioned it.
“One of the girls, said to me the other day, ‘I saw you on the telly at the weekend, Miss! So, that was nice.
“Someone also asked me the other day if I always thought I would play for Wales. I told them I always felt I was capable, so it’s good to help them also develop confidence – whatever they want to do, they should aim for it.”
Unlike the men’s national team – who are made-up of full-time professional rugby players – the Wales women’s squad have to juggle rugby with outside careers.
Hale, who began playing rugby at 11 for the Newport High School Old Boys club, has been in education for four years and although she moved towards working with children who have experienced difficulties partly to benefit her rugby, there were other reasons for the choice, too.
“I felt in mainstream schools that sometimes the kids lower down the classes can get forgotten a bit. They don’t have the same opportunities.
“Our biggest classes are eight pupils, so it’s more personable. You have a real relationship with each pupil, rather than just being another name who comes through the door. It’s challenging and draining, but very rewarding.
“You hear of some awful situations that the pupils are in, but then the highs are fantastic. If a pupil says to me, “Got any plans for half-term?” then that will just cheer me up for the day. The highs are really high and that makes it worthwhile. I really enjoy it.”
England, and to a lesser extent France, have gone down the road of full-time professional contracts for many of the women in their squads, so that the kind of juggling acts or multi-tasking done by the Wales players is less of an issue.
You need an understanding employer – and maybe a patriotic one – to be given time off around fixtures if you’re a Welsh player.
ICYMI: Gloucester head coach Johan Ackermann, Gloucester-Hartpury Women’s RFC players Ellie Kildunne & Cerys Hale join Steve Kitchen in the studio for Cherry & White Wednesday. https://t.co/IHCj5EyeU9 #CWWeds #glawsfamily pic.twitter.com/jqw94oYOOW
— BBC Radio Glos (@BBCGlos) February 7, 2018
Hale says her bosses at ACT, a training and education provider, have been very supportive, but the timetables can still be awkward when you arrive back home at 2am on a Monday morning as the Wales players did after their match against Ireland in Dublin.
“You just have to be transparent, going into an interview. I told them I would want to have certain time off to play rugby. It’s important to be up-front.
“I’m a bit envious of the full-time girls in England. I play at Gloucester, with quite a few of the full-time girls, so that’s an eye-opener. But it’s nice to have an escape from rugby and just different stresses.
“I wonder how they manage to escape from rugby, when rugby is all they do. There are pros and cons, I guess.”
So far, the squad’s efforts – on and off the field – have yet to reward Wales with a victory in this tournament.
But the maths miss of Caerphilly reckons when Wales do get it right then everything will suddenly add up.
“We are lucky that we’ve already qualified for the next World Cup and we know where we are heading and what we have to do. But, we want to be winning games.
“What we feel certain about, though, is that when we do get it right, it will blow people away.”