Non Evans: Comm Games a really big thing

(IRB.COM) Tuesday 28 September 2010
 Non Evans: Comm Games a really big thing
The rugby challenge over, now Non Evans' focus is a wrestling medal in Delhi

As she prepares to fly out for the Commonwealth Games, we caught up with columnist Non Evans to look back on Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010 with Wales and ahead to her medal chances in Delhi.

I fly out to Delhi on Tuesday evening and am really excited by the challenge of another Commonwealth Games. It’s a really big thing for me, probably my last Commonwealth Games as it’s unlikely I’ll survive four years to compete in Glasgow.

It is a long-term goal to compete at the 2012 Olympics in London, so this is a stepping stone for that. I am the British number one but that doesn’t mean I would go, I have to qualify and have been given a two-year plan of all the events I have to compete at and accumulate ranking points.

The top 12 in the world after these events will qualify. That has been my target and as long as I do well in Delhi it is my aim over the next two years to qualify for the Olympics. If I do well I might be able to get some funding from Elite Cymru and the Sport Council for Wales.

For the last six months I have been combining wrestling with my rugby, so I’ve been asked what does this Olympic dream mean for my future in a sport I’ve represented my country at for 14 years now?

Well, the honest answer is we have to wait and see how the Commonwealth Games go. If I do really, really badly and there is no chance of qualifying for the Olympic Games I may come back to rugby.

Lifelong dream

The reality is if I am serious about qualifying for the Olympic Games in 2012 there is just no way I can play both, physically I would not be able to do both, especially with working as well.

In my career it has always been my dream, I came close to qualifying for judo but never quite got there because you have to go all over the world for qualifiers and it is difficult if you are working, so I have to give it a go.

One thing people in life don’t like having is regrets, I like to try and achieve everything I wanted to. I don’t want to have missed chances, I want to manage to achieve my dreams and know I gave it my all.

I have got friends who have things they want to do before they are 40 and that is one of the things on my list you could say. When I was in school, in the sixth form, we wrote notes about what we hoped others would achieve.

One girl wrote for me that I hope you get to play rugby for Wales, I hope you succeed in judo, I hope you get a career in TV and I have achieved them, one of the things I still want to achieve though is the Olympic Games.

I will probably make the decision after the Commonwealth Games. If I am fit and well and not wrestling I will play rugby while I am still young and fit enough. I am not one of these people who will just soldier on and get older and not be the standard needed ... but if I am good enough I will carry on.

Luck of the draw

My immediate focus now, though, is obviously the Commonwealth Games and I really hope I can win a medal, but the thing with wrestling is that it all depends on your draw. You get given a number and it is effectively drawn out of a hat.

This means you can end up with the Olympic champion in your first fight and if you lose and then your opponent loses you could have just one fight. If you lose and your opponent goes through the next few rounds then you get pulled back into the repechage to fight for bronze.

You have got to win every fight to reach the final. There are no pool games, like at the World Cup, it is a straight knockout. I have just got to hope I get a good draw, hope I’m fit and that I win all my fights.

In wrestling you get different judges and the scores can go either way. I have lost fights I thought should have won and won some I deserved to lose. There is a lot of luck involved. Hopefully I’ve get lucky with the draw and have luck on my side.

I’m relieved that I am actually on the plane to Delhi, having had to miss the last couple of games at the Women’s Rugby World Cup because of my knee. I did something that could have affected the Commonwealth Games, but I am a quick healer thankfully and it has settled down.

I came home from the World Cup early because of my knee. I would probably have hung around if I didn’t have the Commonwealth Games to focus on. In hindsight I am glad I did come home a few days early, just to see my consultant and get the knee sorted out as I only had a couple of weeks to get ready for Delhi.

Warm weather benefits

I had my knee drained four times and eventually it settled down and I could focus on the wrestling. It was disappointing to miss the end of the World Cup, but we were playing for the bottom four places ... if we had been playing for a higher position it would have been more disappointing to miss out on.

The fact was, though, I had the Commonwealth Games to think about and getting my knee fixed.

My knee is now loads better. I had a week in Tenerife for warm weather training and that was probably the best thing I could have done. I wasn’t doing any wrestling, but I think it was good to train in the heat, and not getting my knee smashed into the floor in rugby or wrestling it got a chance to heal with no contact. I got it knocked a lot at the World Cup and it didn’t get the chance to heal.

Working in Tenerife, we were doing three training sessions in warm weather and it had lots of time to heal and recover. I’ve come back refreshed and back in training mode and my knee is good. It took some big hits, but stayed down with no build up of fluid.

There has been a lot of talk about the athletes village at the Commonwealth Games and whether it would be ready for our arrival. I think it will be fine, the media do tend to sensationalise things.

I have got a friend in India and she says things are great. They have been unlucky with the weather, it has been really bad, they have had the monsoon and that has really put back some work.

One or two high profile athletes have pulled out saying their safety is more important to them, but these are athletes that are professional, they have got World Championships and the Olympic Games to think of and the Commonwealth Games is perhaps not high priority for them, but for amateur athletes like myself no one is going to pull out because it is such a big event and the Commonwealths will be my last one.

World Cup heartbreak

In the build up to these Commonwealth Games and while my knee was healing, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010 and I have to say it was disappointing that Wales didn’t win any games in our group.

We knew it was going to be difficult when we saw the group, but we could probably have beaten Australia if we’d not had that nightmare first 20 minutes and we were very, very disappointed not to beat South Africa. We showed in the final game that we were capable of beating them convincingly.

For me it was frustrating not to be able to have an impact on that pool game because our tactics didn’t allow the ball to come out wide. When we played a more expansive game we beat them (South Africa) convincingly.

Things could have been different. Even if we lost to New Zealand we could still have finished in the top half of the World Cup rather than the bottom four. It was frustrating more than anything else.

Look at Australia, they came out of the ‘group of death’ as the best runner up across the pools. That is why it is so frustrating, for 60 minutes of the Australia game we ‘won’ the match but we threw it away in the first 20 minutes. Australia finished third and we battered them for 60 minutes.

That is the frustration, things could have been so, so different. Even though it was the ‘group of death’, we could have come out of it, even if not the semis, we could have been fighting for fifth to eighth rather than the bottom four. I think we were a  better team than that.

Women's Rugby on the map

The World Cup, though, was just brilliant for the Game.

I think the biggest thing from the tournament was the standard and professionalism of it. I have played in World Cups and Six Nations and the frustrating thing about Women’s Rugby over the years has been the big difference between the best girls in the team and the not so good players in a team in terms of skills and fitness.

The biggest thing this time was everyone looked very fit, every team was strong and it was a brilliant advert for Women’s Rugby. The fact we got so much media and television coverage was brilliant. I can’t go anywhere without saying we saw the World Cup!

The concentration was on England and New Zealand understandably, those were the games people watched most, but it has really put Women’s Rugby on the map.

I am really happy. There has been little or nothing in previous years especially. In Wales we do get bits and pieces, but this has really opened eyes across the world on Women’s Rugby, we have a high standard and a huge stage to show our game.

I did some filming for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, for the unsung hero award, and there was talk of Women’s Rugby being part of the Sports Personality evening, that has never happened before. England have won how many Grand Slams and have never been invited or considered for team of the year, but finally people are looking at Women’s Rugby.

Standout players

Everyone has been talking about Maggie Alphonsi. She is almost the face of Women’s Rugby and so physical and people have said she could easily play in a men’s team. She is up there with the greats of Women’s Rugby and she really showed how physical women are and can be technical,  ball carriers and people were shocked by how physical it was.

Who else stood out for me? Well, lots of New Zealand players, they are just so talented. Carla Hohepa, she was named Women’s Personality of the Year, probably because New Zealand won the final, if England had won it would probably have been Maggie.

Carla’s performance as a try scorer was great, but there were so many stars out there you could pick for their skills and physicality and I don’t know how New Zealand do it year after year, they just turn up with these brilliant players.

Australia also have some really talented players, their wing  Nicole Beck, her footwork and goal-kicking was immense, she was kicking conversions from the touchline, she must have had the best kicking strike rate in the tournament. She really stood out.

England’s Jo McGilchrist, the one who ran down the New Zealand wing in the final, she was a standout second row with her fitness and her level of commitment. Lucy Millard, playing in a team that doesn’t score many tries, she manages to score some brilliant individual tries.

In terms of Wales, I thought Catrin Edwards was outstanding every game – in the scrum, her ball carrying was brilliant, she keeps herself fit, her head down and does the job. She stood out even against New Zealand and if you can stand out against New Zealand you must be something special!

Unbelievable achievement

New Zealand’s achievement of winning four World Cups in a row in unbelievable, I don’t think it has been done in any other sport. To think they get hardly any funding or backing compared to other teams, they don’t play regularly ... it is scary to think how good they could be if they had that backing and regular games like in the northern hemisphere!

To win again is absolutely unbelievable and shows how talented they are, year after year. It is a shame they went back and don’t have a Tri Nations like we have the Six Nations and we have to see them play more rugby.

England must be very, very disappointed to lose another final to the Black Ferns. The preparation they had couldn’t have been any better, but they still didn’t beat them.

I was watching the game and I just knew from the first 10 minutes that England were going to be chasing the game. New Zealand were just looking in control through the final and I had the feeling they were going to win. If England had won it would be a surprise, looking at that game.

It was a fantastic occasion, live on television with a huge audience watching it, including people who had not watched rugby before who were tuning in because they’d heard from others about the tournament.

It was amazing how many people were there or watched it, just a brilliant advert. It makes me really happy, I have played so many years and people have made fun of Women’s Rugby, but they have finally realised we are physical athletes and deserve the recognition.

We now have to make sure that we build on this World Cup and I think we will. We have definitely got to continue now and keep Women’s Rugby on the map. It will be up to the media to keep supporting us and I think they will because people realise how good the game is now we have got recognition.

The future looks bright.