Gwennan Hopkins

Gwennan Hopkins of Wales and Gloucester. Pic: Getty Images.

Gwennan Hopkins Makes Big Impact And Stakes Claim For Long Future For Wales

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By David Parsons

It took Gwennan Hopkins a mere five minutes to make her mark in international rugby.

Not many teenagers score on their Test debut, but that’s exactly what the 19-year-old Hopkins did in Cork last weekend as she provided Wales with their only points in a 36-5 defeat.

Her try came five minutes after she had replaced Abbie Fleming on the hour mark with Wales trailing 36-0. Her 20 minute salvo was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal day for Wales head coach Ioan Cunningham.

Hopkins is one of the new breed of players progressing through the Welsh women’s player pathway and is proud to be one of the shining examples of the NextGen of players who are determined to set alight the international scene in Wales in the near future.

Having made her mark in Ireland, she is now looking forward to getting a chance to represent her country in her home city of Cardiff when France come to the Arms Park this weekend and Italy play at Principality Stadium in the final day of ‘Road to Principality 2024’ on Saturday 27 April.

There is little doubt Cunningham would have been impressed by what he saw from Hopkins, who brought much needed pace, power and passion to proceedings in dire circumstances at Musgrave Park. She loved it and now wants more of it!

“It was a bit bitter-sweet because of the result, but it has always been my dream to play for Wales and regardless of the score I can take that individually as something to celebrate and feel pretty proud of,” said Hopkins.

“I would have loved to have won on my debut, but there are no regrets on winning my first cap – I absolutely loved it. I thought I was going to be a lot more nervous than I was, but it was just a feeling of fulfilment, it was incredible.

“Scoring a try on my debut was pretty special – I just can’t believe it, it was amazing. It went so fast when I came on for the re-start.

“Seeing my family in the crowd was amazing, the biggest moment for me. They have been so supportive of me and have always driven me to training and matches.

“I started playing when I was four or five and had the best time at Llandaff. That community has always supported me.

“I always said that I was going to be a rugby player and the closer I’ve got to realising that dream the more pressure that has come on me. I’m not professional yet but that’s something I’d love to do.

“There was a lot of pressure coming on as a replacement, especially with the scoreline as it was, and I hope I made an impact. I’m my own player and I want to create my own legacy and hopefully I can do that in the near future.”

While all her focus is on trying to beat the French in Round 4 of the Guinness Women’s Six Nations this week, Hopkins will be diverting her attention temporarily on Wednesday night when she follows the fortunes of her Hartpury University teammates in the BUCS Women’s Super Rugby final against Loughborough at the StoneX Stadium.

She played in the 2022 final when Hartpury won the title for a second rugby in a row, but will miss the push for a hat-trick because of international duties. That is just one of the many honours Hopkins has picked up on her journey to the top.

The former Ysgol Plasmawr pupil captained Cardiff U18 girls to the regional title in 2022 and was voted the Cardiff Rugby Women’s U18 Player of the Year. She captained Wales U18, played or Wales Sevens and then picked up Wales U20 honours before completing her route to the top by playing in the Celtic Challenge this season.

She is not the only one being fast-tracked to the top, in much the same way as Warren Gatland has done this season with the likes of the Cardiff quartet Cameron Winnett, Evan Lloyd, Alex Mann and Mackenzie Martin, and is excited by what the future holds for her and her age-grade teammates like Sian Jones and Mollie Reardon.

“These are girls I have been playing together with in the pathway for years and it is really exciting seeing us all come through at the same time. I know what they are going to do and they know what I’m going to do, and we all want to play an exciting and fast game,” added Hopkins.

“It’s a big change from playing in the pathway, but coming through together makes us work better on the field together. It makes it easier.

“There is a lot of pressure in the Six Nations because it is a huge tournament for us. But the important thing for us at the moment is that we come closer together.

“We’re hurting from the weekend, but we are going to use that hurt to fuel our fire going into the game against the French. It’s going to be a physical challenge.

“But we want this, and we won’t be shying away. We are training hard and sticking together because there is a lot of pressure on us now, but we are tight as a team and we know we need to do a big job at the weekend.

“I’m from Cardiff and so to be able to play an international game at the Arms Park or the Principality Stadium would be incredible. I’ve had a few opportunities to play at the Arms Park growing up in cup semis, finals or at a Blues camp.”

https://twitter.com/WelshRugbyUnion/status/1779445198788939984

If Hopkins is in one of those ‘pinch me’ moments of her career, wondering if what has just happened to her is actually real, she is a prime example of what can be produced by the ever-evolving women’s player pathway in Wales.

And the good news for Wales head coach Ioan Cunningham is there are more like her following in her footsteps.

“I’m going to aim high, I’m not going to put a ceiling on what I can achieve in my career. It’s more a question of how hard can I push myself and how hard can I work for this team,” said Hopkins.

“I’ve loved playing in the Celtic Challenge, and just because it’s new doesn’t mean it is far behind whatever else is on offer. I’ve played for Hartpury University and Gloucester-Hartpury in the Allianz Premiership and I’ve loved that as well.

“The great thing for me is that there are options now. I’m just so grateful to Ioan and his coaches, as well as the girls around me, for giving me this chance to learn and play at the highest level.

“This has always been my dream and my goal, and all the youngsters coming through the pathway and coming into the squad all know what we want. We are all on the same page and being able to do that together is definitely inspiring and motivating.

“Alaw Pyrs has been training up with us from the U18s and she is one of my best mates at Hartpury. One of the best things about the pathway is how close we get both on and off the field as a group. Going away to Festivals and playing together helps to develop partnerships.

“I’ve been so lucky coming through in that I’ve been in the first Wales U18, U20 and Challenge Cup teams. It has been such a privilege and such an experience and the partnerships we’ve all been able to create coming through the pathway have allowed us to step up with confidence.

“Growing up I just played with the boys and there wasn’t much coverage of the women’s game. When I was younger I didn’t have many role models, and so I decided I was going to play in my own way.

“Now seeing the games televised and the media coverage growing is just incredible.”

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