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Mel Gnojek

29.01.23 - WRU Development XV v Combined Provinces XV - Mel Gnojek of WRU Development XV takes on Combined Provinces XV defence

Positive half-way report for Celtic Challenge

WRU Development XV head coach Mike Hill is pleased with the progress shown by his players half-way into the Celtic Challenge pilot.

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The side beat the Thistles 29-27 in Round 1 and came back from a 22-7 half-time deficit against Combined Provinces XV on Sunday. They scored three second-half tries through Kat Evans, Sioned Harries and Jenna De Vera after a first-half touchdown for Teleri Wyn Davies. Lauren Smyth and Catherine Richards added three conversions.

Hill said, “I was really pleased with the second-half on Sunday. We showed what we can do when we keep hold of the ball and apply pressure. Along with the first performances against Thistles, we have grown so much already as a programme and there are huge positives.

DFP – Leaderboard

“There are young players like 18-year-old Jenna De Vera who has been outstanding, not just on the field and in training but as a leader.

“The older heads have made a big difference around camp too. People like Abbie, Sioned and Kat Evans. The younger players are learning so much just from observing how the internationals prepare for training and stay on for extras – along with their game understanding and decision making during the matches themselves.”

Another player who has stood out in both games so far is 21-year-old Seven Sisters flanker Mel Gnojek. And starting in the back row alongside Wales No 8 Sioned Harries on Sunday brought Mel’s rugby journey full circle.

Mel said, “I’m only playing rugby now thanks to Sioned. I played mixed junior rugby but had stopped playing when boys and girls split. When Sioned came to Ysgol Ystalyfera as a teacher, she introduced rugby for girls so I’m very thankful to her for that or I wouldn’t be playing today. She is an inspiration for me so to get to play alongside her was really special. She’s still teaching me too – in training and on the pitch!”

Sioned Harries added, “Mel’s potential was clear from a young age so to see her then develop through the age grades, playing for Seven Sisters and at this level, it’s really nice and humbling. I coached her for Emerging Wales but it’s great to see her progress further.”

Wales host Thistles on Saturday 11 February (4.30pm) before travelling to Belfast for the return fixture against Combined Provinces XV.

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