Bill Carne this week chats to Ali Griffiths, who is a pleasant and modest young lady off the rugby pitch but an aggressive second row with Whitland Ladies once she dons a Borderettes’ jersey...

Whitland Ladies’ Rugby team has done remarkably well over the past few seasons as they gained promotion to the top level in Wales and since then have soared up the Premiership table to become one of the top two teams.

To do this they have recruited a number of talented young players from our county and one such starlet is Ali Griffiths, who hails from Narberth but travels the short distance up the A40 to play second row for the Borderettes.

Ali has also played a range of other sports, starting with football as a regular in the Carew Juniors’ team at under 11, which consisted mainly of boys, and playing there until she was 14 and then switching to play for Saundersfoot Ladies as a strong-tackling defender when she became too old for mixed matches.

From the age of eight she also competed in motocross, starting out with a quad bike loaned by Nigel Bevan, who joined her father Phil (known to all in rugby circles as ‘Putty’) in a very strong Narberth RFC pack of their era.

By the time she was 12 Ali had her own quad bike and had achieved the distinction of a third place in the British Ladies’ Championships, the youngest ever to reach the podium at that level.

“It was great to speed around the course,” said Ali, “with the thrills and spills of negotiating the ramps and tight bends.”

“We used to practise at Tavernspite and Glandy Cross, with lovely weekends at Lampeter and across South Wales where we got to know all the other competitors so well because we stayed in caravans on the course and enjoyed each other’s company.

“If someone’s quad bike needed work on it then everyone was ready with advice or spare parts and I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world!”

Ali had always been keen on trying her hand at rugby but dad Phil was reluctant for her to take part, despite the fact that he had a reputation for being a tough, grafting second row

But at under 16 level he relented and Ali was roped in to play at Whitland by the splendid Sue Davies (team manager) and enjoyed playing rugby from the outset.

She played really well but sadly had to take some time out because of knee problems, although her work as a lifeguard at Blue Lagoon a help in regaining fitness – and passing her test in the car made it easier to attend training sessions and travelling to away matches as she soon regained her confidence.

Proof of her progress came when she was selected for the Scarlets’ under 18s who played against the Ospreys, Dragons and Blues, and this really helped her improve her all-round play.

“It was at this time that I decided I would like to travel,” Ali told us, “and so three years ago I got a job coaching rugby in America at Camp Winona, which is in Maryland and Washington DC.

“We had upwards of 150 boys and girls each week in the holidays, most of whom who had never touched a rugby ball before and they loved playing the game, which was brilliant!

“It allowed me the chance to look at the East Coast of the USA – and last year I did the same thing again and had time on the West Coast.”

Back home in Wales, Ali had started playing for Whitland Ladies on a regular basis and although at first it was a big step up in terms of physicality she soon settled in well under the watchful eye of Sue Davies, with Min and Paul Walsh as great coaches and their daughter Natalie as her self-appointed ‘minder’ on the pitch.

Ali was part of the Borderettes’ squad which gained promotion last season and caused quite a stir by doing so well this season. They finished second in the league programme and beat league winners Skewen in the recently-played cup match between the top two teams.

The Borderettes train at Parc Dr Owen every Thursday evening, with Dan Mason now joining the coaching staff in readiness for next season.

“We warm up with some touch rugby,” said Ali, “and then there is plenty of contact work like tackling alongside tactical stuff like defence, securing quality set-piece possession and handling the ball as much as possible.”

When we contacted Sue Davies she was quick to sing Ali’s praises.

“Ali is an important cog in our machine because she does a great job of supporting at linesout, is a more than useful ball carrier and terrific tackler.

“Her work rate is excellent; she trains hard and is very committed to our club.

“When she was off earlier in the season with injury we missed her and it is nice to have her back in action now.”

That injury was a broken hand, ironically sustained in training, which has taken four months to heal – but where Ali had kept fit despite being unable to play.

“At first I thought I had dislocated my finger but they found it was my hand that was broken, once the swelling had gone down, and although I missed actually playing at least I was able to get along and support my team-mates.”

Sadly, it came at the wrong time in more sense than one because it meant Ali missed out on the Scarlets’ trials but she has the right philosophy in the sense that she is intent on carrying on playing for the Borderettes as well as she can – and if selection comes for the Scarlets it will be a welcome bonus.

In the meanwhile, Ali is back in action at Parc Llwyn Ty Gwyn and also has a role at the Lewis Lloyd Ground on Narberth home match days because she helps the indefatigable Ann Lonsdale behind the bar.

“I have to wear an Otters’ polo shirt so I get teased by both camps at some time – but it is all good fun and I really do enjoy my involvement in rugby.”

Talk to Ali Griffiths for a short while and it is easy to see her enthusiasm for the oval ball game – and we wish this modest and pleasant young lady continued success as a tough forward on the pitch with the Borderettes!