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The rugby captain on the firefighting front line

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Firefighter Rafiuke Taylor has a simple message for those setting fire to Welsh hillsides: “Please, stop!”

The dual code Wales rugby international is busy enough at the best of times, combining captaining the Wales women’s rugby league side and playing rugby union for Pontyclun Falcons with motherhood and her job with South Wales Fire and Rescue Service.

Like the rest of her colleagues, Taylor’s crew are currently carrying two sets of protective equipment. One is for fighting fires, including breathing apparatus. The other is to protect against coronavirus.

The last thing they need is to be called to deliberate grass fires, of which there have been over 500 in Wales since the beginning of March.


Not only do the blazes divert emergency service resources away from communities dealing with the pandemic, but the smoke badly affects those with respiratory conditions who are already more at risk should they fall ill to the virus.

“There are still regular fires to deal with because people are spending more time in their homes, there are still smoke alarms going off, and there are still car crashes to attend even though there is less traffic on the roads,” says Taylor.

“What we could really do without are the people deliberately setting fires on the mountainsides. It’s crazy, absolutely bonkers.

“If a colleague currently has to go into a building like a care home to check an alarm issue, then they have been issued with personal protective equipment, like masks and gloves, but those have to be double-bagged and disposed of, and there has to be a change of clothing.

“You have to be showered and decontaminated, it all adds to the time before that person is able to get back with a crew. So, deliberate fires are not exactly helping the situation.”

Taylor has been a firefighter for far longer than she has been a rugby player, although the profession and the 15-a-side version of the game have a long and entwined history in Wales.

For the skipper of the recently created women’s rugby league national team, however, combining rugby with fire-fighting has been a relatively new experience.

Taylor, now 41, has been fighting fires for 20 years, but she didn’t start playing rugby union until she was 34.

She won her first Wales caps in the union code at 36, before deciding to combine playing rugby league last summer – for the Cardiff Blue Dragons - to help out a friend who was coaching.

She adds: “I played in one rugby league training session just to help and I really loved it. By the time I played in my first match I was hooked. And oh, my god – when it ended I had never been so disappointed to hear a full-time whistle in all my life.

“There’s something very different about rugby league to rugby union. The ball is in play a lot more and you just get involved and the ball in your hands a lot more often. I love it.

“I love running with the ball and being in space. If I had to choose between the two – rugby union or rugby league – then it would be a very long decision-making process. But right now, I think I’m probably getting more out of rugby league.”


Just right now, however, Taylor is in sporting lockdown, along with the rest of the country.

She’s fortunate in that the Barry fire station gym is one of the very few gyms in Wales still permitted to remain open for fire fighters to train in – although under very strict conditions.

When it comes to her rugby, though, Taylor is having to sharpen her skills at home – like every other rugby player in Wales.

Anyone in any doubt just how sharp those skills are should check out footage of her astonishing individual try scored for Wales in their magnificent 24-20 victory over England Lions at St. Helens back in November.

It was only Wales’ second game since being formed and the result makes their long-term ambition of qualification for the 2021 World Cup look perfectly realistic.

“It’s frustrating not having rugby, but I am lucky in being able to use the gym at work, although only when I’m on duty,” says Taylor.

“I‘m keeping in touch with others by Zoom session and doing some yoga at home and then I also get some exercise outdoors when I take out my dogs.

“My best advice to other people in this lockdown - - people used to doing sport and just those who want to keep in shape – is to have a routine and get friends or family involved.

“If you’ve a routine then you can find a fitness workout one day, then your friend can find one the next day and you can challenge each other – not to beat each other, but just to try and improve.”

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