Llanelli Online had the privilege of interviewing Llanelli’s own Jade Knight who has been selected to play in the Welsh women’s squad in this year’s Six Nations tournament. We hope you enjoy our exclusive interview.
Have you been playing rugby for a while?
Jade Knight: Yeah quite a long time, I started playing in school I played football for a long time. I then had a knee injury so I retired from football at aged 16, after playing for Wales Under 19’s. I then played rugby for a few years, but had 4 years out due to a knee operation. I recently came back playing and got straight back into the team.
What schools did you go to?
Ysgol Dewi Sant and later Ysgol Strade
Did you go to university?
Yeah I went to Swansea University, I did medical genetics. I have just gone back to university again at Kings College London, to study to become a midwife.
Is this the first time you have been picked for the Wales Squad?
Yeah, I played football for Wales Under 19s and I’ve played for Wales 7s, but this is the first time in the Six Nations so I’m uncapped at the moment.
Do they play on the same day as the men’s?
This year is slightly different, We have the Blues at home. We will play Italy before the Wales Men’s game at the Principality Stadium. We play at 11:45am and then the men’s play after us in the stadium.
Are they asking fans to come and watch?
They are advising people to come in early due to the enhanced security checks, so the tickets give entry to both games. It is the same as with the Under 20’s, the tickets give entry to both the men and women games.
So you will play Italy just before the men’s team play Italy?
We play Scotland this Friday, then the Under 20’s play.
I have been following ladies rugby, I followed Burry Port ladies last year from the start being an emerging team, they went on to win the ladies bowl. I was impressed with the number of women’s teams coming forward, there seems to be such a rapid growth with ladies rugby. The quality and the speed of development from the teams. I was watching teams that could hardly throw the ball around on a Saturday a couple of the years ago were unrecognisable 12 months later.
It is a surprise. The girls sport is really growing, I think it has a lot to do with the premier set-up in Wales growing. You also have the premiership in England and the Olympics. So all of these things are growing and contributing to the sport.
Have you seen more investment in ladies rugby and sponsorship?
At the moment, I am playing in the ladies English premiership for Richmond. Other than pay, we get exactly the same as what the men get including the coaching. We train 4 times a week. The Richmond club have provided the same as what the men get minus the pay. It is one of the bet setups I’ve had.
Do the ladies get the same sponsors as the men?
Yeah, it is very similar, sometimes the men and women have weights sessions together and a sprint session together. The only time we separate is for the skills aspect.
The million-dollar question, looking at the future, gender equality and pay gap. Do you foresee a day when ladies and men will be combined in playing rugby?
I’m not sure, it happens at junior level. It would be very interesting to see. Men bring some aspects and women bring others. I play Wales touch mixed as well so it would be very interesting. I don’t know if it would ever happen. Some women do train with men, but physicality is a big difference at the moment.
Do you know as far as the regions are concerned, what is the set up to be selected with Wales? Are the players based locally?
The way it works is you have a club, mine is Richmond, to be selected for Wales you have to play for a region. My region is the Scarlets. There are quite a lot of players from the ladies Scarlets team in the Welsh set-up this year.
So you have to play for a region to be selected for Wales?
I’d say there is an unspoken rule. You have the coaches watching the regional games and that is how you get noticed. There would be other ways around it but it would be more difficult.
You are 28 now, is that considered old in women’s rugby?
Women’s sport is very different. I think I am coming into my prime now, however the current Welsh team is very young and the future looks very bright. I am probably one of the older players in the team.
It must be a huge honour to play for Wales, whatever the sport?
Definitely. It us a huge honour, especially for me as I’ve gone through so many injures and operations. I thought I would never achieve it, so for me it is even more impressive and I am still in shock.
Some parents may be concerned about their children playing rugby. Were your parents like that or did they say go for it?
My family is extremely sporty. My uncle is Mark Taylor who is currently the Scarlets manager. My cousin has just received his Welsh Under 16’s cap. My family are competitive and sporty. From a young age I’ve always wanted to compete or play and was really happy.
After I had my knee injury, my parents were a little concerned, but I feel I have a free spirit to do what I wanted. However, I do understand the parent’s perspective now that I have my own son. You become a little more protective of something you haven’t got control of.
As far as young girls coming through school, touch rugby is fantastic as you say. Is sport becoming more equal for boys and girls. What message would you have for the girls coming through?
Just have a go, really and just do it. When I was in school I really had to fight, I was the first girl in Dewi Sant to be able to play rugby with the boys?
Was there a lot of ‘you can’t play, you’re a girl?
Yeah, in Dewi Sant I did have that, I felt like I had to literally drag my Mam to school to tell them that I can play. However, when I was at Stradey my PE teacher was encouraging for me to play with the boys until the school rules meant I couldn’t play anymore. For girls, definitely play with boys for as long as you can and have a go. That’s one thing that’s good about sport. There is a sport for everyone.
There was been controversy as far as coaching goes in terms of male’s being selected over highly rated female coaches for roles. Are you happy to have male coaches or would you like to see more women coming through the coaching ranks?
It is a really interesting debate at the moment. I think it should not be measured on gender, it should be purely down to your ability. If your ability is the best, then why not be selected. It is down to what you can bring to that position. It has been highly debated recently in the women’s Rugby Premiership in that the women coaching teams are doing better than the male counterparts in the premiership. In female sports it would be nice to see female coaches. Men and women bring different views to a game but it would be interesting to see a combination.
Are you aware of any other countries leading the way in terms of equality in women’s rugby?
The Australian Women 7’s has a lot more equality. Women’s rugby has grown a lot more in quality recently, they are getting paid and are performing amazingly in Sydney.
What position do you play?
I play Scrum-half.
So basically, you’ll be hoping to boss the game?
Yeah hopefully, but there is a lot of pressure to make the right decision at the right time.
Who were your inspirations growing up?
Growing up, I didn’t have many female sports people to look up to, so my rugby role model was probably Johnny Wilkinson. I loved his work ethic and how much he gave to the sport. Other than that, my auntie did gymnastics for Wales so I was lucky to have a female role model in the house.
Are you looking forward to the game? It’s going to be a massive day.
Yeah, I’m really hoping that this year the Women’s team can get more support and TV coverage. All these little things will help make the sport grow.
Yes, that’s the key, there’s no reason why we can’t be tuning in to watch that match on prime time TV.
Yes, and especially the way that Rowland Phillips and Gareth Wright want the game to go. It is running rugby which is nice to watch. It is getting more towards the way that Wales like to play.
I’ve been following the ladies’ matches. They are fantastic to watch. To see something different to what’s usually being show is fantastic.
Yeah, the hardest bit is when it is always compared to the men’s game. It is until people realise that it is a completely different game in itself then that is going to be the crux.
I really hope we get a crowd for the Italy game with the Principality stadium being so big.
I remember watching Wales ladies matches many years ago with just a handful of people watching but it has come a long way since then?
Massively, I’ve been involved in it for ten years and it has changed. I’m hoping in another ten years time it would change again.
Do you have a son or daughter?
I have a son. He was born in jersey which allows him to play for any of the Six Nations teams.
If you have a girl next would you like to see her go forward like you have?
I’d love her to. The thing with children is you want them to do whatever they want to do and be the best at it. I’d support her in whatever she did. I would love for her to be sporty but I would never hold it against her. You can never predict these things.
I hope that If I had a daughter she’d come into a world that is a bit more equal.
Thank you for speaking to Llanelli Online. Congratulations, good luck and we hope you smash it the first game.
No worries, thank you very much.
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*Photos courtesy of Jade Knight