Wales captain breaks down in tears during press conference as reality of turning professional hits home
Anyone in doubt of just how much it means for Wales' first women rugby players to be turning professional need only watch Siwan Lillicrap's press conference interview on the matter.
The Wales captain is one of 12 internationals to have been offered full-time Welsh Rugby Union contracts - the first of their kind for women internationals in Wales. You can read more about the chosen 12 here.
While the 34-year-old No. 8 may have landed her dream job now as a full-time pro - she has resigned from her role as head of rugby at Swansea University - things haven't always been easy.
She loved rugby as a child but didn't have a team to play in.
She would watch her dad Tim coach and her brother Gethin play at Swansea's Waunarlwydd RFC, but there were no local junior girls’ sides for her to join.
She regularly pleaded with mum Bev to train with a local women's senior side, but had to wait until she was 17 before she was allowed to start playing.
In a press conference celebrating the historic contracts, a reflective Wales captain couldn't help get emotional when asked what she would now say to that little girl - her former self - who was without a team to play in.
"You've just made me a bit emotional then," Lillicrap said through tears.
"That is the reality, I didn't have a club to play for because there was no age-grade [rugby for girls].
"I fought for so long to even get my first Welsh cap, and to be in this privileged position now, and with the strides the game has taken, is massive.
"Sorry, that really struck home then!"
The waiting game didn't end at the age of 17, either, and the 40-cap skipper even considered walking away from rugby altogether.
Lillicrap was in Wales' extended squad for four to five years before she was finally named in an official campaign squad, culminating in her first Wales cap aged 28 in 2016. The Bristol Bears forward has hardly missed an international game since and became captain in autumn 2019.
The privileged position she is now in, having been awarded a 12-month contract which runs until after this year's World Cup, is not lost on Lillicrap or any of her Test comrades.
"It's a dream job to be able to have this opportunity to be a professional rugby player in Wales and to be the best player we can be for that red jersey is huge.
"It's going to be life-changing for myself.
"It's a dream, really, always wanted to be a pro player and represent your country to your best ability. It's massive and seeing it all come to life today is quite emotional.
"I’ve loved my time at Swansea Uni but I can’t wait to pursue my dream of being a professional rugby player."
"What it's going to do for Welsh rugby is massive
"The aim is to make big strides in March and April, improve performance and then hopefully we'll be in a much better place come the World Cup.
"We're really proud rugby people and we're looking forward to changing the face of women's rugby here."
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