05 September 2017 / Club News

73 and Out

Wing Elen Evans ended her international career on a high at the Kingspan Stadium last month, helping Wales to a 17-27 victory against hosts Ireland at the Women's Rugby World Cup. Here, she reflects on her life in rugby.


How do you sum up an amazing 16-year rugby journey in so few words?

My family have always been rugby mad. My Dad played for Dolgellau and North Wales and, with me having a younger and older brother playing constantly in school and at their club, I felt I was missing out. This is well before any girls' rugby or cluster rugby was around Dolgellau, so the only time I played the game was when I was messing around on the farm fields with my brother.

In my last few years in high school, Dolgellau Ladies rugby team formed. This was my chance, but being only 14 I had to wait two years until I could join. So come Tuesday 9th January 2001, I turn 16 and I'm old enough to start training with the team on the Friday. I'm made! I turn up late - which will be a theme of my career - and join in the passing drill warm-up. I hear the murmurs straight away: "She can spin pass and sidestep" (which is particularly amusing because my career since then has in no way been about my passing!).

There's a game away to Wrexham on the Sunday, and after begging Mam she drives me there so I can sub for the team. It's a close game and 10 minutes after half-time the coach unleashes me. I'm nervous, since I've not even had tackling practice yet, and on I go for my first every rugby match at fullback and slot two tries and seal the win for the team. I think I like rugby and rugby likes me.

After that afternoon in Wrexham I don't stop, playing for Dolgellau, Waterloo, Caernarfon, Scarlets, Wales U19, Wales Sevens, Wales 15s and, hopefully soon, RGC. My international breakthrough comes just after Dolgellau progress in the cup in 2002, and we play a game away in Pontyclun. We lose, but I must have made an impression because the then Welsh management are watching and put my name forward to the U19 coaches. This is where my thanks to Mam start, driving me down to Cardiff most weekends - I'm not driving at this point - and she hasn't stopped supporting me one way or another since.

While still playing for the U19 side I get pulled into the Wales and Wales A training squad. I'm a shy girl from North Wales, and this means training with the best players in Wales at the time - the likes of Non Evans, Kylie Wilson, Lowri Jones and Claire Flowers. But training with them makes me want to be one of them and play for my country. I keep playing with the U19s and training with the seniors, and then in 2004 I get my first game for Wales A against England. The following day we go and watch the seniors play Scotland at Cardiff Arms Park. Unfortunately for Non Evans, she picks up an injury and has to be taken off.

I think nothing of this at the time, but on the Tuesday I get a phone call asking me to fly out to Ireland with the senior squad. Not to sit on the bench, but to start at full back. So with no time for nerves, I get my first international cap away to Ireland in a 14-0 win thanks to two Hayley Baxter tries.

Seventy-three caps on and I've had a lot of highs and my fair share of lows. I'm flying high and loving my rugby with Wales, Dolgellau and North Wales until the injuries start. I dislocat and break my thumb in 2006, then break my collarbone in 2007. I hate rehab at this point and struggle to get back on track, so in the summer of 2007 I decide I need a break and withdraw from the international squad.

I call this period my sabbatical. I build my current house, enjoy time with my friends away from the rugby field and gain a few pounds! I keep playing club rugby but always miss the international side of it. Then, in spring 2010, the Scarlets Ladies form and a few of us from Dolgellau go down for trials and to play some games.

I'm just happy to be playing at a higher level again, but realise I miss the feeling of competing with and against the best in the business. After the first game I find out that the reason for these fixtures is to finalise the World Cup squad that is heading to London in the summer. The squad is nearly complete, with five spots available. Game on. I make the final cut and am off to the first of my three World Cups.

In January 2012, while playing well and looking for a starting shirt for the upcoming Six Nations, I dislocate my elbow playing for Dolgellau (on my birthday, no less). This means missing my only chance to play at Twickenham. I'm struggling, and even more heartbroken when I hear the home game against Italy is to be played at the Millennium Stadium (as it's then called). This triggers something inside me to blast through rehab, push my elbow and return to play.

The cast comes off in the evenings and I'm getting some press-ups and curls done. I want to prove wrong everyone who has written me off for the whole tournament. After a lot of hard work strengthening the elbow and convincing the physio and coaches that I'm okay, I get back to full training just in time to be selected at centre against Italy at the home of Welsh rugby. To top the day off, I score the first ever female international try at the stadium and we secure a great win.

I gain my 50th cap in 2014 against the USA and after that year's World Cup in Paris, I believe I've got one more in me. I work so hard and maintain my focus so that I can make the tournament in Ireland in 2017 and end my career where it started. Things are going well, I'm feeling fit playing for Scarlets, Caernarfon and, by now, Wales Sevens. While playing sevens out in Brive in September 2016, I damage ligaments in my ankle, which means seven weeks on the sidelines and missing the Autumn internationals.

Once fit, I'm back in the squad for the Armed Forces fixture in November. I come off the bench and within ten minutes I've damaged the AC joint in my right shoulder. I remember thinking 'I can't go down, this can't be happening'; there are new coaches in the set up and I need to impress them and not look like an over-the-hill, struggling player. I stay on and somehow score a try, but once the final whistle goes I'm in the changing rooms on my own, away from everyone and questioning whether I can go through rehabilitation again.

It's my last year and I can't put two games together without getting injured. Maybe my time is up and I won't make the World Cup. I can't keep fighting the younger generation for my shirt. This is when Tails (Rachel Taylor), one of the closest friends I've made on this journey, unknowingly becomes my motivator. She's also coming to the end of her career, and I see how hard she's working and how much she wants it, pushing herself harder than anyone I know. I think if I follow her lead I might just get myself back on track.

Just before the 2017 Six Nations I'm in the best physical shape I've ever been, looking like I might make the World Cup after all. This is when I start writing 'I'm not done' on my wrist before every game as a constant reminder. I would have given up without you, Tails.

This summer I have done the following: played in my third consecutive World Cup, facing New Zealand and the Haka for the third time at the tournament; earnt my 70th cap against Canada; helped Wales to one of our best finishes, automatically qualifying for the next World Cup in 2021; alongside Tails, had the privilege of presenting the girls with the red jersey for the final game against Ireland; and FINALLY written 'I'm done' on my wrist.

I end my international career in Belfast, with a victory against Ireland, just like when I started 13 years ago. My time on the A470 clocking 800 miles most weeks is done. I have had an amazing journey in the red jersey of Wales and owe so many thanks to family, friends, coaches and medical staff who have supported me over the years.

Diolch yn fawr.

#73AndOut #ImDone

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