They might be the only side still seeking their first victory in the Tyrrells Premier 15s – but Worcester head coach Roy Davies insists there’s a spark of something special which is already shining though his young, talented side this season.
“I DON’T say it’s okay to lose rugby games, I’m probably the world’s worst loser, but that’s been part of my learning.”
The words almost somersault out of Roy Davies’ mouth, his thick Llanelli accent boldly emblazoned with a tone of defiance.
It’s an open admission from the Worcester Valkyries director of rugby, whose side are yet to win their first game in the Tyrrells Premier 15s – both in the league – and since its inception.
Last season was a gruelling one for the premiership outfit, who ended up bottom with a points’ difference of -893, managing a draw against draw against Firwood Waterloo Ladies in the only game they did not lose.
For the world’s worst loser, it wasn’t exactly ideal.
Some might argue the several cricket-like scores Worcester fell to – including an 89-0 defeat to Bristol Bears – did little to boost the commercial viability England’s elite women’s rugby competition desperately sought – and is still seeking.
Blooding the youth
The 36-year-old will be the first to admit his side are one of the most inexperienced sides in the league, but it’s a type of authenticity he champions.
“We had a very young team last year. We lost a lot of players before the start of the season, before I came into the club,” he said.
“We ended up blooding a lot of 18 and 19-year-olds. They’re still only 19 and 20 – it’s not like their flying through.”
Even England hooker Lark Davies – considered one of the older leaders of the pack – is still only 23, providing a wealth of experience far greater than some of her fellow squad members, who are nevertheless punching above their weight in Tyrrells terms.
Cara Brincat, Charlie Wilcock, Akina Gondwe, Vicky Laflin and scrumhalf Brooke Bradley were all part of England under-20’s squad for a three-match series in Canada in August, while Meg Varley and Eloise Hayward have enjoyed stints at international level for England under-18s.
Even in their loss to Saracens last weekend – the squad had 11 players all under the age of 20 – including Rosin McBrien, who has also enjoyed a call up to the England women’s under-18’s squad for the second leg of their Home Nations tournament in July.
“We’re giving these young players an opportunity and trying to teach them the game at a hard level,” said Davies.
“My job is to keep making all those errors a learning process, rather than a failure, taking the positives and making the girls understand what premiership rugby is all about.”
From one end of the table to another
Just like his squad, Davies includes himself in that learning process.
The Welshman knows all too well the feeling of basking comfortably at the top of the table, having guided Bristol Ladies to a top-of-the-table finish in the old women’s premiership.
Adjusting to life at the other end might have been a rude awakening for him, but it’s an experience Davies knows he has benefitted from.
“I know I’m a better coach than when I was at Bristol,” said former PE teacher Davies, who admits that managing high-flying players at the top of the league can be onerous in itself.
“It’s challenged me – but I’m a big believer that if you’re not challenged, you don’t learn.
“I certainly think I learned a lot more last season than I did the season in which I was successful.
“You can define success in a lot of ways, but for me, we can take young talented players and can develop them and help them achieve international honours.
“I can’t praise the girls highly enough. As tough as it’s been for me, it’s been tougher for them out there.”
A new season, however, comes the chance for Davies and his young, evolving side to take up the gauntlet – and there have already been marked improvements.
A narrow opening day defeat by just three points to Darlington Mowden Park Sharks saw Valkyries pick up two bonus points, while their 35-7 loss away to Saracens last weekend is a far cry from their 105-0 drubbing in the same fixture last season.
Despite still seeking their first win of the campaign, the Valkyries have crossed the whitewash seven times in their first three games – three more than at the same stage last season.
Davies describes it as positive shift within the camp, one which he and is players will be determined to keep alive over their coming fixtures.
Time is of the essence, too. The RFU are yet to reveal plans for life beyond the league’s first three years after its ‘locked in’ system is finished and one team will be relegated.
Worcester are watching, but they are by no means waiting, contrary to what critics will think of their barren run so far.
“None of us are sat here thinking, ‘Ah, it’s alright, we’ve got two years to win a game,” said Davies, who says this year the club are targeting a finish between fourth and eighth place.
“I wanted to win last week and I want to win next week.
“It is about being process-driven, rather than results and performance-driven.
“I’ve certainly seen progress in our process and performance, so that’s the glimmer of hope that’s keeping me going.”
Engaging the community with a Worcester flavour
Some might wonder how a team which keeps losing can attract crowd numbers as attendance at Tyrrells fixtures continue to grow.
Despite sharing playing facilities and their home ground at Sixways with their male counterparts, Davies doesn’t feel the pressure to create a fan-base for women’s rugby at Worcester.
However much their amalgamation with a Gallagher premiership side may help attract crowd numbers at home fixtures, The Valkyries’ ambition is to cultivate women’s rugby from grassroots level up through a more localised network of clubs and schools, where player-led sessions are key for inspiring the next crop of Worcester talent.
“Rather than thinking of it as creating a fan base, it’s more about engaging with our community,” said Davies.
“We’re trying to link very heavily with our local clubs and support some of their programmes by sending players out as guest appearances and coaching sessions.
“If we can do that, we’re going to reap the benefits of it, not only in terms of the player pool we have to draw from, but also connecting to people emotionally and making them feel the Valkyries is their club.”
Even for the world’s worst loser, that’s a victory – and it is for women’s rugby too.
Thank you to Roy Davies for your time and thank you Fiona Tomas, for supplying WER with this great interview and insight into what’s happening at Worcester. Fabulous photos are supplied by www.jmpuk.com
Thanks, – Max.