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The rugby star looking for honours on and off the field

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If adaptability is the key to success during lockdown, then Wales forward Manon Johnes should have few problems when the women’s Six Nations starts in April.

The men’s tournament may be in full swing but as the women’s game lacks a full-time professional structure there were too many problems to overcome during the pandemic and the shift in the calendar resulted.

Not that it worries, Johnes – who, like many female players – can see plenty of benefit in moving dates.

As for coping with new routines, then the Oxford undergraduate has grown accustomed to that, too.

“Probably, the weirdest thing I have done during lockdown is have a virtual meeting with a master, sat in my academic gown in my bedroom in Cardiff,” says Manon, a first year geography student at St. Catherine’s College.

Rugby player Manon Johnes in action

 

“These are meetings with the master to see how you’re doing, called masters’ collections. I had to put my robe on for it, even though it was through a computer screen, so that was quite bizarre.”

The mortarboard is just one of many hats worn by the 20-year-old. When she’s not studying, one of Wales’ most talented young players is either training or playing for her club Bristol Bears, or travelling back across the Severn Bridge to train and play for Wales.

But the pandemic’s restrictions have grounded the student aspect of her life, at least for the time being. Instead of wheeling her bicycle across college greens and mixing with students from around the world, Manon is back home in Cardiff – peering into a laptop, like millions of others.

“It is quite hard. The only thing is that I’m maybe better off than some students because our terms are quite short and I’m already halfway through the current one.

“Hopefully, we might be back in Oxford by next term. It’s quite difficult trying to do field work from your bedroom – that’s quite limiting – but there is quite a heavy workload so at least I’m very busy and so there’s not much time to think about anything else.

“I also think I’m lucky in that I’m a first year. This would be more depressing if it was my second or third year.”

The former Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Glantaf pupil is also thankful for her rugby. Not only does it give her the release most people are seeking from their home-based lives at present, but it provides a busy routine in trying to fulfil her ambitions as an athlete.

“I think a lot of people are struggling at present because they haven’t got a structure, but I’m very grateful that my rugby gives me the chance to do activities outside of my academic life,” says the Bears flanker.

“I’m think I’m lucky, too, in that respect in that because I’m playing for Wales, I’m classed as an elite athlete and I can travel to train and play.”

Manon is one of the magnificent seven Welsh internationals currently with Bristol – alongside Olympic Sevens star Jasmine Joyce, as well as Elinor Snowsill, Keira Bevan, Alisha Butchers, Kayleigh Powell and Natalia John.

The Welsh connection was expected to be part of a Bristol team tipped to do well in England’s Premier 15s tournament this season.

Instead, a stop-start campaign has not worked out for them as they would have hoped and they are back in seventh place in the 10-team division, having parted company with coach Kim Oliver.

“It is always difficult to go into a transition period midway through a season and we’ve found it quite hard,” says Manon.

“And that’s been made worse because there is very little contact between teammates at training at present due to the rules. But we do have world class players and I think the tide will turn.”

New Wales coach Warren Abrahams will certainly hope so, as he looks to his English-based players – now the vast majority of the Wales squad – to run into form before the start of the Six Nations.

It will be shorter tournament than usual, with Wales and their rivals playing only three matches – two pool games, against France and Ireland, before a finals weekend against their equivalent finisher in the other pool.

“I think this was the only feasible option in the current climate,” adds Manon. “No-one really knows what April is going to look like, so this was a good way of minimising travel and minimising the risks.

“A lot of girls are not opposed to the tournament being at a different time to the men’s Six Nations. I think I probably go along with that.

“It gives us a separate platform and for too long we have relied on the back of men’s organisations and men’s programmes. I think this will allow us to optimise the support for our game and give it its own identity.

“One effect of Covid is that it has given movements like BLM, or the promotion women’s sport in general, the space to rethink and re-shape how we do things. That’s a positive we have to grasp.”

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