MORE Welsh women could follow Sian Williams’ lead and become professional rugby players in the next few years, says Geraint John, WRU Head of Rugby Performance.
Williams became the sport’s first full-time female professional after being awarded Elite Athlete Status by the Royal Air Force this week.
The RAF has released Senior Aircraftman Williams, 25, from active service for the next three years and is funding her professional rugby career.
Elite Athlete Status allows SAC Williams, a Trade Group 18 Logistics (Mover) at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, to train full-time with Wales. At the moment, the flanker is the only female Elite Athlete in the RAF.
The RAF’s senior officer in Wales, Air Commodore Dai Williams, said: “Fitness, courage and hard work are values we really treasure in the Royal Air Force, and they’re equally important in rugby.
“So we are proud that SAC Williams is now able to put those qualities to use both in the RAF and as a member of the Wales squad.”
The Wrexham-born back-row has played rugby since she was eight and dreamt of being a professional rugby player from a young age. She received her first cap for Wales in 2011 against Scotland and captained the Wales Under 20s.
As a key member of the senior side, SAC Williams has won 20 full caps in two seasons and represented Wales at Sevens.
She plays regional rugby for Newport Gwent Dragons and for Worcester in the Premiership, as well as representing the Combined Services and the RAF Rugby Union Women.
Until now Athlete Status, SAC Williams worked 12-hour shifts for two days and two nights at Brize Norton, before getting four days off. She juggled this with daily gym sessions, training in Cardiff twice a week and playing club rugby at Worcester.
She said: “I spend on average 12 hours a week in a car. Being able to take those 12 hours and put them into training is massive. It can only make me physically stronger, faster and fitter, which will bring extra value to my game.
“I am at a point in my rugby where I want to keep learning and keep getting better. Achieving Elite Athlete Status gives me the time before the next Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2017 to strive for excellence and do everything in my power to become a world class rugby player.”
Wales Women head coach, Rhys Edwards said: “Sian has made huge strides since first coming to the fore as Wales U20s captain five years ago. She’s become a key member of the team through her own hard work and dedication and becoming a full-time athlete will help her to make further gains in her performance, both physically and tactically.”
As the first professional in Wales, SAC Williams has added a new element of competition to Welsh training, as her teammates aspire to emulate her success.
Geraint John, WRU Head of Rugby Performance, hopes that within a few years Wales will have more professional female rugby players.
He said: “That will give us better opportunities to win the Six Nations championships and also get on the circuits in terms of Sevens and the Commonwealth Games in years to come.”
The WRU has not announced how future professional contracts might be funded. At the moment it is concentrating on building a women’s Sevens programme, with the hope of sending a Welsh team to the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia.