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Jess Kavanagh "Never Give Up - It’s always been my motto"

Ahead of the Men’s Six Nations kick off this weekend, we took some time to catch up with our very own Welsh Rugby International player, Jess Kavanagh. The North Walian, originally from Blaenau Ffestiniog, made her international debut against Italy in the 2016 Six Nations and so far, has made 27 appearances, winning 19 caps and scoring 12 tries.

After spending many happy years with Llanelli Scarlets, the flying winger returned to North Wales in 2018 to join up with RGC in Colwyn Bay. With her Level One Coaching Qualification as well as six years of teaching and coaching under her belt, Jess joined the PE Department at St David’s College in September 2020 and has already made a huge impact with the staff and pupils.

Passionate about sport her entire life, Jess was the only girl in the boys’ team when she started playing football at the age of five. After going on to captain the boys’ team, she played for Pwllheli Ladies and represented Wales at U17 and North Wales Ladies.

“Then out of the blue,” Jess said, “my local rugby club, Bro Ffestiniog RFC, introduced a Women’s Rugby team. All my friends were going, and I really wanted to go and play sport with my friends. I loved it, so it all started from there. After a few years, I was scouted by Scarlets and went on to get a cap for Wales U20s.”

This is when Jess’s career hit a bump:

“Quite soon after I got my U20s cap, I picked up an injury. I ruptured my ACL which put me out for about three years. When I started playing again, Scarlets picked me up again pretty much straight away and I was in and out of training with the Welsh Senior Team. I never got a sniff with Wales 1st XV to be honest with you. So, I just kept working hard and that was my aim - to get a full Welsh cap. I planted it in my head, my mantra was: ‘Never Give Up’. It’s always been my motto – I could have easily given up, but I thought ‘no chance’.”

In 2015, Jess was selected for Wales Sevens and represented Wales all over the World, in Russia, Dubai, France, and Japan. This put her in front of the Wales 1st XV coaches and her hard work paid off.

The big call up came in 2016: “I made my full debut against Italy in Italy in the Six Nations. I came on as a sub and didn’t get a huge amount of time, but I can’t describe the feeling of having that full Welsh cap after five years of hard work. It was such an amazing day.”

“I played for the Senior side in the Autumn Internationals as well. Although it wasn’t a capped game I did get to stand in front of my family and sing the anthem which is another proud moment of mine.

Jess’s commitment to sport cannot be underestimated: “I was travelling 300 miles, three times a week just for training, and juggling a full-time job as well. I was working for Gwynedd Council in Sport Development. I looked after two high Schools and twelve primary schools in Porthmadog and Harlech. My job was to cover the whole primary and secondary school sport development programme and all the cross over points between the two stages.”

Jess is keen to see women’s sport grow and wants to encourage girls to get involved from a young age. The growth of women’s rugby over the last few years has been huge with girls’ and women’s teams being formed all over the country.

“The growth of women’s rugby to North Wales as a region will be massive. At the moment, girls don’t have enough games or training because there’s not enough out there. We’ve come a long way over the last two years, but we’ve still got a way to go. It would be incredible to put a pathway in place to help girls develop. If a young Jess Kav could have seen that pathway when she was young, then it’s something that I would have definitely worked towards.”

Jess went on:

“The more girls we can get interested at a young age, the better really. Raising the profile of the women’s game is hugely important. When I was younger, I didn’t have a clue about any international women players; there was no one I could aspire to. If we could show these girls profiles of women players and have a pathway for them through rugby and education, that would be incredible.”

Currently recovering from injury, Jess is working hard to be fit again for the Women’s Rugby World Cup coming up in New Zealand in September 2021. “The recovery is going well. My aim is to be ready for the tournament this Autumn. Things are looking good for that right now. The team at St David’s is being really supportive and helping wherever they can.”

Tipping Wales for the win over Ireland in the first round of the Men’s Rugby Six Nations, Jess is cautiously optimistic of a Welsh tournament win: “I think this Sunday’s game will be a close one. I reckon Wales will win. If we win on Sunday, then why can’t we go on to win the Six Nations?” Fingers crossed for a great game whatever happens.

The new-look 2021 Women’s Six Nations will take place in a new format on back-to-back weekends in April. The Women’s Rugby World Cup will take place in New Zealand this September.


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