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Alex Callender’s inspiration close to home

WALES’ players’ player of the Rugby World Cup, Alex Callender has spoken about the inspiration she draws from her mother Donna, who is battling cancer, and believes her team will go from strength to strength on the back of the experience they’ve gained during this tournament.

The all-action flanker was the choice of her team mates for ‘player’s player’ following two of the side’s four performances including the quarter-final against New Zealand and she’s currently the tournament’s top tackler with a tally of 80 following the quarter-final stage.

She said, “Before the quarter-final, Ioan (Cunningham) spoke to us about whose shoulders we were standing on, who we were playing for. My mother Donna is 100% my inspiration, as she is to many people. She’s my number 1 supporter. I’m gutted to be knocked out of the Rugby World Cup but I’m excited to go home and see my mam and spend time with her. I hope our performances have made her and everyone at home proud.”

Callender believes the players can be proud of their achievements despite being knocked out 55-3 in the last eight by the Black Ferns. “We stepped up physically on the weekend which is what we were asked to do, and there was so much improvement on Saturday compared to our Pool match against New Zealand, but we’re still gutted about the result.

“We knew it was going to be a tough encounter because they are world champions. We were in the fight from the outset with our response to the Haka. That is an important tradition for them. We wanted to show them we were up for the challenge and I think they respect that.

“It’s their home, to play them in front of 16 000 people in their home world cup is massive for us too and the matches have given us so much to learn from. We are satisfied with our progress but we can also improve more from here. We can only build as a team.

“We’ve grown so much since January,” she said. “To come third in the Six Nations was a great start and coming into this Rugby World Cup we worked so hard. We had a tough pre-season which gave us confidence and allowed us to back ourselves over here.

“It’s about belief. There’s so much more growth in us and we’ve got so much more to bring. That 2025 World Cup is going to be so exciting. Hopefully I can be a part of it.”

Head coach Ioan Cunningham is also proud of his players’ efforts during the New Zealand-based tournament.

“I’m super proud. I thought the girls were excellent on the weekend, especially in the first half. We were physical and we forced the Black Ferns to make skill errors.

“We 100% learned from our Pool games, especially our first game against New Zealand two weeks ago. We disrupted their pick and go game quite successfully and the players really put their bodies on the line. They need to take a lot of credit from that.

“We can take a lot of heart from that performance which showed we can compete physically with one of the best teams in the world. To play the world champions twice in two weeks is so valuable.

“This is just the start of our journey but it’s a special one and one I’m very proud to be part of.

“Becoming professional rugby players this year has changed the lives of many of these players, it’s something they’ve waited a long time for. It’s been a special journey that I’m proud to be part of.

“We need to rest and recover and then it will be all systems go for the Six Nations which will soon be on us. But we can take a lot of confidence from the progress we’ve shown during this tournament, from the last-minute win over Scotland, to being so competitive against Australia and gaining an invaluable losing bonus point, to our two performances against New Zealand.”