WALES’ Sioned Harries believes she is in the ‘best shape of her career’ ahead of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
The 65-times capped No 8 has been training with Wales on a full-time basis since July 1 thanks to support from her employer Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Dur in Port Talbot and she believes that the newly established professional environment will benefit Wales Women, not only now but for future generations.
She said, “It felt a bit surreal to start off with. Previously when I was training with Wales I was so used to going back to work afterwards, I always had to balance work and rugby. So to be able to train full time has been a bit surreal at times but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a different mental challenge, Ioan has been testing not only our physical and mental abilities but also our resilience which I really enjoy.”
Although her expectations of herself have always been high, Harries is pleased to have been able to give full-time rugby her all for the first time.
She said, “I’d say my personal expectations are the same as they have always been, the standards I expect of myself are the same as when I balanced work and rugby but now I’m able to give more to rugby.
“I’m able to invest more into training so I’d say I’m probably in the best shape of my career but even more important than that is the accountability that is now required of us.
“There are no excuses which is exactly what we want as players. There has been a lot of public support for us since the first contracts were announced. We were always told we were inspiring the next generation but for the first time that feels like a reality. These contracts are an extra carrot, not only for us but for the next generation. We are all able to give another three inches and if we want to be the best, we have to demand the best of ourselves.
Harries believes much progress is being made but expectations still need to be managed.
“The time and money invested into us will allow us to improve and grow but we are still behind other nations who started ahead of us, we have to understand that but keep striving to move forward. Proof of that is the fact that Ioan (Cunningham) has signed a contract until 2025. We are on the right track and it’s about time.”
Harries made her international debut against Australia in the 2010 Rugby World Cup and the New Zealand based competition kicking off next month is set to be her fourth.
Each of the tournaments to date are memorable for different reasons.
“2010 was my first experience of a high performance environment, I was so excited to join up with the squad but I remember catching food poisoning on the first night so didn’t get much training before the first game but I remember my family being there to support me which was great.
“We went on to play Sweden, Australia and New Zealand – in fact, I think I’ve faced Australia and New Zealand at every world cup – but being so young I was just excited to play rugby in a different environment and make my mam and dad proud. It was local in England so there was no fear factor so it was quite nice to start there.
“In France in 2014 we opened our campaign against the hosts in front of a huge crowd which was a massive moment for the women’s game. We needed to go ahead of Spain to improve our seedings and I remember I scored a hat-trick against South Africa to help us do that so that was special.
“2017 is probnably my most memorable tournament to date. There was more exposure by then, it was also quite local in Ireland so there was lots of support. We knew we had to beat Ireland on their own turf to automatically quality for this world cup so to do that was certainly one of my career highlights.
“I’m excited for those getting their first world cup experience and hopefully those of us who have been to a few can also share their experience.
“It means a lot to get to New Zealand. It tastes sweeter after being out of the squad for three years.
“I’m able to train full-time so it’s a world cup where I have high expectations for myself and I want to make myself, my family, my team mates and my friends proud.”
Harries is feeling fresh despite three busy months of preparation.
“It’s been really effective. We haven’t just done rugby which is important. The coaches have kept us on our toes with different training techniques such as grappling and we’ve been off site for various challenge. Plus they tested our resilience by mixing up the training schedule, making sure we are prepared to adapt, as we will have to in New Zealand. That will hopefully stand us in good stead.”