This week Bill Carne chats to Welsh football international Joanna Price, from St Davids, who is now playing rugby for Haverfordwest Ladies and is in the Welsh Rugby Developmental squad as proof of her all-round sporting ability...

JOANNA Price has already been capped for Wales in football at every level from under 12 to senior level and since switching to rugby last season she has already forced herself into the Welsh development squad which is due to train at the Centre of Excellence at their Vale headquarters – and so could become the first player to represent Wales in the oval and round-ball games.

It is all the more remarkable when Jo decided, almost on a whim, to attend a training session with the newly-formed women’s team at Haverfordwest, as she had only ever played rugby twice before and readily admits that she didn’t have a clue about names of positions or tactics.

It is worth recording the fact here that one of those two previous matches was at Twickenham – but more of that later!

Jo was made extremely welcome by team organiser Clodagh Llewhellin and the rest of the Haverfordwest team and she was persuaded to play the following weekend in the key position of outside half – and is understandably full of praise for Clodagh, as she gave her plenty of advice as she played alongside her at inside centre, plus coaches Gareth Charles and Ben John, who have also been very supportive.

As a youngster it was hockey and football which occupied a great deal of Jo’s sporting spare time, with hockey having to give way to football since she was doing so well as a goalkeeper, starting off at Goodwick United under the watchful eye of John Deason and at Haverfordwest County with Bob Nelson.

Welsh caps came in recognition of her skills, although she readily admits she would much rather have been a striker, and Jo eventually wrote off to Arsenal when she was 16 to ask for a trial with their famous ladies’ team.

“It was something like ‘Billy Elliott’ in reverse,” Jo told us, “as I waited for a letter to come back.

“It took almost eight weeks before I was invited to their training ground at Colney Heath for a trial and I was very nervous but must have played well because I was asked to join their junior squad.

“With training sessions four times a week it demanded total commitment but I was soon playing for their first team in matches against the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, Everton and Spurs, with our home matches played at Boreham Wood or St Albans Football Club.

“I played there for three and a half years and really enjoyed playing alongside players of the calibre of Jane Ludlow, who played 61 times for Wales and is now Welsh coach, but I wanted to further my education with a Sports Coaching degree at UWIC so I transferred to Bristol and joined another great group of girls as well as gaining a 2.1 honours degree

Jo played for Bristol at weekends in the same division as Arsenal and was understandably disappointed when they lost 3-1 the first time the teams met. She also played in goal for UWIC in midweek matches against other colleges like Oxford, North Devon and Loughborough.

It was at this time she was contacted by the UWIC rugby coach, who had seen her strong kicking of the ball out of hand, and was short of a goal kicker for their British Universities Sports Association cup semi-final.

After explaining that her rugby knowledge was non-existent, a non-plussed Jo agreed to give it a try; UWIC won that match and then went on to beat Loughborough by 7-3 in a hard-fought final at Twickenham, with Jo slotting the conversion!

Throughout her time in sport, Jo has received total support from her mother Marika and her late father Mervyn, who played at prop for St Davids alongside his brother Gareth, who is now chairman with The Saints. Jo’s sister Katie was a useful hockey player whilst brothers Nicholas and David played football for St Davids.

When Mervyn sadly passed away one of Jo’s caps was buried with him, with another going to her aunt and uncle, Tina and Jos. She also gave shirts to her former schools, Ysgol Bro Dewi and Ysgol Dewi Sant, and she has kept the rest as mementoes of her enjoyable times in football, which included coaching in Nebraska, USA.

She first went out in 2009, originally for 12 weeks, but was involved there until 2012 as she continued her studies and gained her Masters’ Degree in psychology.

When she returned home she joined Camrose, hoping to play up front but needed as goalkeeper. It was at this time she heard about Haverfordwest needing women players, decided to pop along to a training session.

“Clodagh was brilliant and soon persuaded me to join the club,” explained Jo, “although I explained my lack of experience.

“I thought I might just be giving out the water bottles to start so I was very surprised, and nervous, to be playing straight away in the key No 10 shirt.

“We did really well from the start and finished second to Penbanc in the league and cup final – and I was amazed when I was chosen for the Scarlets after only five matches.

“This season I was chosen as vice-captain to my friend Nina Colville and since she unfortunately broke her arm I have taken on the skipper’s role and I am learning match b y match with that new aspect of the game.

It was Clodagh’s husband Jonathan who told Jo about the WRU’s ‘Pembrokeshire Pathways’ scheme and she went on the one-day course at the Centre of Excellence to see whether players should be drafted in at regional or national level. Jo went to Graham and Jill Brockway for extra fitness training before going and they did a brilliant job.

Jo was understandably jubilant when she was invited back for training with the Welsh Development squad and for training for a Welsh Sevens’ squad to be selected for a tournament in Dubai.

“I am very proud, but nervous,” Jo told us, “because things have moved so quickly to this level; but it was the same in football and look what happened there. I can only give it my best shot.

She is also working part time with Swansea City in their education set-up and has agreed to help them out on the football field sometimes, as long as it doesn’t interfere with her rugby schedule.

“We at Haverfordwest are so pleased for Jo because her real commitment and skill,” said Clodagh Llewhellin, “and all the girls will be thrilled if she eventually gets a cap.”

So would we at the Western Telegraph and we wish Jo Price continued success because she flies the Pembrokeshire Flag with distinction!