Interview with local rugby star Teleri Wyn Davies
Solicitor and rugby player Teleri Wyn Davies has played second row for Wales and the Sale Sharks and now combines a full-time law career with the time she spends on the rugby field. After hanging up her boots as a semi-pro at Sale at the end of 2021 she has returned to her home club Caernarfon, where she now coaches the U7s. Here, the 24-year-old looks back on how she coped with the dual pressures of work and rugby while trying to find time to unwind with family and friends, and how what happened to her rugby-mad dad taught her to live in the moment.
What attracted you to rugby and how old were you when you first started to play?
Because my mum was a police officer, she worked shifts so she’d normally be in work when I finished school. Dad was the rugby coach for the youngsters, so because mum was in work we had to go with him to the rugby sessions. He’d be coaching my brother and basically he said I might as well get involved and play while I was there than stand on the side watching. I was probably about five. On Saturdays mum would probably be working, or sleeping after a night shift, so we’d go down to the rugby field and we’d watch dad play. The families of the other players would look after us while he was on the pitch.
You’ve been quoted as saying you had a love/hate relationship with rugby after your dad Bryan ‘Yogi’ Davies was paralysed after a scrum collapsed. Can we assume you’re loving your rugby right now?
Yes, I am loving it, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it. I do have days where I question myself: why am I doing it? Sometimes I have three hours of sleep and the job I do is not an easy job, either. You have to concentrate. You think, I’m tired, I’ve had enough, but then you realise that the reason you’re doing it is because you love it. I wouldn’t be doing it otherwise.
What are your favourite memories of your dad, who passed away in 2013?
I have so many memories of my dad. He’d always be outside, playing with us. The times we’d spend at the rugby club, cutting the grass. We always had fun. I remember he was off for a whole week and, bearing in mind I was only seven, he made me cycle for 20 to 30 miles. The next day he made me walk up Snowdon. We had a week of basically doing activities… but not just going for a little trip down the road, it was full-on. That week stays in my mind like it was yesterday. I have lots of memories like that. After his accident my brother Ilan ran with the Olympic torch so we went to watch him. Dad was in the hospital but we took him out for lunch. It was good for him to get time away from the hospital and spend time with family. One of the best memories is about three days before he passed away. We were in the garden, it was a really nice day, and we were playing dominoes. He was trying to wind mum up, basically saying: I want that domino over there. This one? No, that one. This one? No, the next one. He’d just wind mum up. We’ve lots of memories to cherish.
Describe the day you were told you’d made it into the Wales squad…
A few days before I found out, I was playing for Rygbi Gogledd Cymru (RGC) vs Scarlets – the first regional game for RGC – and after the game I had a phone call. It was one of my mates, prank calling me, basically pretending to be someone from the media saying I’d played really well and that I had been spotted. Two or three nights passed and I was at uni with one of my mates and my phone went so I answered it. It was Rowland Phillips, the Wales women’s coach, saying I’d been called up and I was like, ha,ha, very funny, you’re prank calling me.. but it was actually him! I was really shocked, but also really excited. I just couldn’t wait to get down to Cardiff and start training the following week.
How did your family react to you getting your first cap, and how do you think your dad would have reacted?
They were really proud. My first cap was at Eirias Park, in Colwyn Bay, and my mum, my brother and my uncle came to watch. Lots of my friends were there as well. Dad would have been proud, but he would never have said it to my face. He’d never praise me to my face but he’d always praise me to other people. So I know he’d have been proud…
As an athlete we know you have to keep physically fit, but how important is it for you to keep on top of your mental health, too?
It’s really important. I don’t think people realise how much being a Wales player can affect your mental health. Working full time and basically training full time as well. Trying to fit in travelling and friends can be really, really hard and you do get some days when you’re feeling really low and in a dark place. When you’ve been training over a weekend you reach that place mentally when you say to yourself, I can’t do this any more, my body’s aching.. but you have to remember the reason why you’re doing it. You also have to take time for yourself.
What was lockdown like for you and were you able to train in the pandemic?
Lockdown did me the world of good. I’m one of those people who, during lockdown, realised what I wanted out of life and I found myself. I was actually ill with appendicitis when I had a phone call from the Sale Sharks coach and I had to tell him I had to think about whether I wanted to do it because I was a captain at Caernarfon Rugby Club at the time. Then I realised that if I wanted to give it a go, now was my chance. I’m at the right age to do it. I realised that I wanted to take rugby seriously again and I wanted to give it another shot playing against quality teams. I was quite lucky with regards to training because I qualify as a semi- professional and you were allowed to carry on training so I was going to Caernarfon Rugby Club. At the beginning of lockdown it was hard. I did a lot of running and conditioning on the rugby pitch. You just had to adapt. I did a lot of online classes, home workouts. If you want to do it you have to be disciplined and I just adapted.
What are some of the best and hardest things about being a Wales international?
Representing your country is such a privilege – no-one can take that away from you. Otherwise, the best thing is the community – the friends you make and the amount you learn. Not just about rugby but also about yourself, life, discipline.. you learn so much. One of the hardest things was the travelling. I would travel four hours down to Cardiff to train and four hours back in the same day. I’ll be at work in the morning, leave at 1pm, go down to train in Cardiff and I’ll be back home at 2am. It was the same with Sale Sharks. I’d work through the day and then I’ll travel two hours to Manchester, train, then travel two hours back home. You have to prioritise. Sometimes it was either sleep or train!
When you’re feeling down, what lifts your spirits and gets you back on track?
My family. My older brother Ilan and my mum Sue are amazing. If I’m feeling down my brother will say: Come on, let’s go to the gym. He’ll drag me to the gym with him. If I do feel down I’ll tell him. He’s very approachable. I’ll ask him, why am I doing this? And he’ll basically point out the reason why I’m doing it. He’s brilliant – and my mum’s the same.
Your first language is Welsh, but when you joined England’s top women’s league, the Allianz Premier 15s, we’re guessing you didn’t get the chance to speak it on the rugby field like you used to…
There were five of us at Sale Sharks that were Welsh – so I spoke Welsh with them, both on and off the pitch, unless one of the English girls were with us, then I’d speak English. But the girls at Sale got to know what I meant when I speak Welsh on the pitch. They’d understand when I’d say the numbers un, dau, tri – so I was teaching them a bit of Welsh whether they liked it or not!
Not too long ago the media focused more on male rugby players than female. Are the sexes now more equally represented or is there some way to go?
When I was younger I stopped playing when I was about 10 because we weren’t allowed to play rugby with the boys any more and there wasn’t a team for me to join until I was a senior. Girls now have more opportunities. They can play rugby in school. I established a girls section in Bala so they had the chance to play rugby were I didn’t, so I believe that in that sense we’re on the right track. But we’ve got a long way to go until we’re equal with men.
What qualities do you think someone looking to become an international rugby player needs to have?
They need to be determined, driven, motivated and enthusiastic. And they need to be ready to sacrifice different things to play rugby at international level.
When you’re not working or playing rugby, what do you do to unwind?
I play the harp so my time for myself is playing for half an hour, just to unwind and to get myself back into a positive mind-frame. I also play the piano. Even though it’s part of my training, I also like to go to the gym – it’s my time to focus on something else. I also like to spend time with my family and friends when I qet the chance. I don’t have time to do anything else!
How far into the future do you look? What’s next for Teleri?
I take one day at a time. I don’t look too far into the future because you don’t know what’s around the corner. But I also believe in setting goals. Once I achieve one goal I set myself another goal, so for example, when I got into Sale Sharks my goal was to be on the bench. I got on the bench. Then my next goal was to start a game, then a few games down the line, I started a game. Then you set a goal for getting a call up to the Wales squad. I’m all for setting goals rather than be unrealistic and look 10 years into the future because you never know what’s around the corner – and that’s what I’ve learned from what happened to dad. You have to make the most of every day.