Sioned Harries column: Balancing Test rugby with teaching

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Sioned Harries column graphic

Venue: Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma Date: Saturday, 29 April Kick-off: 15:30 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC One Wales, BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport website & app; BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra; live text commentary on BBC Sport website & app

France always put on a show and Saturday was nothing less than we expected.

We were told in the week that they had sold close to 20,000 tickets and you could really feel it.

It was a fantastic stadium, the crowd were close to the field and you could hear every song and every chant. It was so loud that we could barely hear each other.

I remember waiting to go into a line-out, I looked up and all I could see what a wall of blue, red and white and the mountains of the Alps in the background.

It’s important that you take in those moments because they are the moments that you train for, that you put yourselves through pain for.

I’ve played in France a few times now and it just gets bigger and better every year, as does the travelling support, they were fantastic.

Sioned Harries in action against France
Sioned Harries made her 72nd appearance for Wales against France

The result was obviously not what we wanted and the instant reaction was a feeling of disappointment because we knew we didn’t start well.

It was the opposite of what we did against England when we flew out of the blocks and then faded in the second half.

If we could put the two halves together it would be a completely different game, but we’re still looking for that 80 minute performance.

Credit to the girls for the way they responded, we actually won the second half 14-10. The replacements made a great impact and got us back into the game.

Ioan [Cunningham] as a coach is a realist, he’ll say it as it is, but he is also a positive thinker and a huge advocate for mindset. The message to us was the result is what it is, we park it up and we look ahead.

Saying that, there were phases of play that we can be proud of. We went out to try and get four tries, we got two, it’s just about being clinical and making the right decisions in their 22.

We’ve also got another new cap in Abbey Constable, and it’s important we celebrate those achievements.

Wales women take a team selfie
Wales players pose for a team selfie during a training session

Focus now moves forward to Italy, they are very unpredictable in attack and their back line play very well together.

But like any team they have their strengths and weaknesses and we will target them accordingly, but we will focus on ourselves and our game plan first and foremost.

Italy is a must-win for us, we want to finish our campaign as we started, on a high.

They’ll be hurting after losing to Scotland and it’s lucky for us that they didn’t come away with a bonus point.

We only need a single point to secure third place, but we are 100% going for the win. Italy came to Wales last year and beat us, so we will be looking to right some wrongs there.

I flew back from France early Monday morning to get back to school.

It’s not ideal coming off the back of a loss and with the rest of the squad heading straight over to Italy as I want to be part of the preparations.

I’ve been very lucky in previous years where I was able to balance both work and rugby, but as the game moves into professionalism, obviously there is a lot more strain on that balance.

Right up until last year I was able to juggle being a teacher as training was in the evening, but now it’s changed with most of the squad being full-time.

So this is the first campaign where I’ve struggled with a bit of fatigue with all the back and forth, but I have to credit school and Ioan Cunningham who have worked well together to ensure that I am available for both.

They released me for the World Cup and for the first two Tests against Ireland and Scotland and I was lucky that England was at the end of the Easter holidays.

Sioned Harries arriving at Stade des Alpes
Sioned Harries juggles Test rugby with being a full-time school teacher

The upside for me flying back on Monday is that I was able to be in the Principality Stadium with my year seven girls from Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Dur to coach and support them in their under-12s final.

Unfortunately they lost 51-10, it was a really tough game for them.

At half-time I said to them ‘you’ve got nothing to lose now, so go out and play your best possible rugby and show everyone who has come to support you why you deserve to be here’.

It was a completely different game in the second half, and although I’m gutted we lost, it was so good to see the transformation of the girls.

At the start of the year there were some who had never picked up a rugby ball, now they are playing at the Principality Stadium. I am so proud of their character and tenacity.

I want to congratulate Ysgol Bro Pedr and when I take my teaching hat off, it was great to see the talent of the future.

I’ll be flying back out on Wednesday evening to catch up with the team on Thursday and hopefully I’ll be part of that final squad.

As it’s coming towards the end of the campaign, so kangaroo court is looming.

Fines wise, I think the likely suspects to fall victim will be Natalia John. Keira Bevan always puts herself in situations where she’ll get fined as well.

Georgia Evans is in charge of it all, but she can expect a big one to come her way as she thought we were playing France in Chernobyl instead of Grenoble!

Comedy club will also be making a final appearance this week, I won’t say too much before the girls get to do it, I’ll leave that to my final column where hopefully we’ll be celebrating a win in Parma.

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