TWO Amman Valley rugby players have made history by becoming the first full-time Wales Women’s team members to receive a contract from the Welsh Rugby Union.
Center Hannah Jones and scrum half Ffion Lewis, both former students of Ysgol Dyffryn Aman, are among the first cohort of players to sign professional contracts with the WRU.
A total of twelve players have accepted a full-time contract, which came into effect this week, with the players and management of the National Center of Excellence.
Jones, who has 32 caps, has been a linchpin on the Wales side for a number of seasons, and the Gloucester-Hartpury star described it as “a dream come true” when he got the news.
“I was really shocked, but very happy,” said the 25-year-old. “At the time, I was told I was with my family, so we were told to tell our close friends and family.
“I was really excited. As cliché as it may sound, it’s a dream come true for me. It was Ioan Cunningham who told me. He called me and offered me the contract.
“We then had a few days to read the contract and whether to accept or decline it, so it was really exciting. I was shaking when he called me. I said yes right away.
“It’s a dream come true. I’ve been waiting for this for quite some time.
“I had a bit of a taste for working full-time for Great Britain. I am very lucky and honored to have a contract in Wales. It’s a huge privilege.”
She added: “We will see a steady but slow improvement. We now have the time. The girls are not working full time, we are not tired and there is more time to recover.
“You have that contact time with the coach, you have more time to deal with your skills, to focus on your nutrition. So I think in terms of fitness, and body fat, that kind of area and skills there will definitely be an improvement in the Six Nations.”
Jones said it will be a juggling act to become a teacher and become a full-time professional athlete, but she is enjoying her change of scenery.
“To be honest, Cardiff Met university has really supported me,” she said. “As soon as I told them that I had been given this contract, they told me to go for it.
“Not many people get this opportunity, you are young and you can teach every day. I had landed quite a bit, I had that reaction. As soon as you have a gap, we’ll fill you in and I’ll be a qualified teacher.”
Meanwhile, Ffion Lewis, who has also put a limit on Wales in the rugby league, is taking a year-long sabbatical from her post as PE and Welsh teacher at Bishop Hedley School, Merthyr.
The Worcester Warriors number nine has been capped 17 times for her country in the rugby union.
“I think it is every player’s dream to be 100 per cent committed to rugby,” said the 25-year-old.
“For all of us, it’s huge to have this opportunity to really push ourselves, and show the next generation that dreams can become reality.”
Wales Women’s head coach Ioan Cunningham said: “It’s been a difficult but fun process.
“Thanks to all the players who gave us selection headaches. We are all super excited to start the program now.
“Talent and ability were the first element in our selection process and then the individual player’s potential growth along with their attitude.
“The conversations about contracts were fun to have, although often quite emotional.
“Some of the players had logistical issues to work through from a personal and professional perspective, but it’s great to have them in the National Center of Excellence as we begin to lay the groundwork for improvement.
“We have developed close working relationships with the players’ Allianz Premier 15s clubs and I am confident that our program will benefit all parties.
“We had to be fairly clinical and even ruthless. We clearly have short and medium term goals in terms of the Six Nations and the Rugby World Cup, but we also have an eye on developing the best players for the future of Welsh rugby.
“Overall, we went for the players we think can make the biggest profit right now, not to mention the contribution that the players who receive permanent contracts will also make to the program.
“But when these players work full-time, they have the opportunity to develop all aspects of their game and become even better athletes and rugby players.”