Keira Bevan and Josh Adams first became acquainted as young children while living a few doors away from each other in a quiet cul-de-sac in Pontarddulais.
The pair would play touch rugby, British bulldogs and any other sport involving a ball with their siblings and other children living at the red-brick Parc St Teilo housing estate, eight miles from Llanelli.
Now, they both play rugby for Wales.
As Adams, 26, settles down for this joint interview via Zoom, he jokes he has been pulled away from a game of pool with his teammates before a reassuring laugh indicative of his sense of humour. Bevan, two years younger, is ready and waiting behind a different screen. Despite both being based at the Welsh Rugby Union’s Vale Resort, the Covid times we live in dictate that both camps remain in separate bubbles, even using different entrances to the building.
Bevan is one of the historic 12 women who became full-time professional Wales rugby players at the turn of 2022. Twelve more have turned semi-professional.
Adams, of course, is a world-class finisher and Lions tourist. He is acutely aware of how important contracts are for his old neighbour and her teammates, but also for girls all across Wales – and his own daughter Lottie, should she wish.
“Now there’s an opportunity for her which wasn’t there before,” he says of his eight-month-old daughter. “If she ever wanted to take up rugby or any sport, I’m certainly going to encourage her to. If that’s in rugby, there’s a career in it for her. That’s massively important, especially for inspiring young girls who are now taking up rugby. It isn’t just ‘I’m going to be doing it on a part-time or amateur basis’. Now you can have it as a career.”
As for his little girl, Adams jokes: “She’s eight months so I don’t think she’s quite got the grasp of what rugby is about! It takes people quite a while! She’s got the full kit, rugby balls upon rugby balls, loads of supporters’ T-shirts, jumpers, vests, babygrows, you name it, she’s got it. We’re trying to drill it into her that Wales is the team, Daddy plays for Wales and hopefully before long she’ll be able to remember a couple of games if I’m still playing.”
As for Bevan, her life-changing phone call inviting her to play rugby for a living came from Wales head coach Ioan Cunningham after her impressive outings during an autumn campaign which yielded two wins from three. “I hadn’t actually saved his number so I was like ‘who the hell is ringing me?!’ He said he was very impressed and they wanted to offer me a contract moving forward. That’s something I aspired to have for a very long time. I definitely put a lot of stuff on hold in anticipation that this would be happening. I’m just really grateful that now it has actually happened and I can call myself a professional rugby player.”
It has long been the status quo that if young boys in Wales are good enough, they will likely get a shot at elite rugby as they grow up. For girls, that has only just become a reality.
“I don’t think we take it for granted as such but the pathway was a lot more clearer,” Adams says. “You’ve got four professional teams in Wales so there’s plenty of opportunity there as well. We’re super chuffed that the women now can have that opportunity as well. These girls now are role models. You’re actually surprised by how many people look up to you as professional players and it’ll be exactly the same for the girls.”
Qualified personal trainer Bevan, a sharp lieutenant on the field with 38 caps to her name on the eve of the Women’s Six Nations, hasn’t experienced the levels of recognition that Adams has just yet, although a routine shopping trip does stick in the memory. “Well, the week the contracts got announced, I went to Tesco with my mum and everyone was shouting ‘congratulations’ but after a week that stopped straight away!” she laughs.
Many of Bevan’s teammates were working full-time jobs alongside club rugby duties at English clubs plus Wales, trying to perform at their best. The balancing act became increasingly impossible and a winless Six Nations last season laid bare the chasm between the professional, semi-pro and amateur teams competing against each other.
So, how does Adams think he would perform on a rugby field if he had to work a separate 35-hour-per-week job on top of rugby? He lets out a tired-looking puff before the question is even fully asked.
“It’s a great question and the honest answer is I don’t know,” he replies. “We’ve been very lucky that I’ve never had to do it. Some of the girls were travelling from all over, coming down from England, Sale Sharks, all the way down to train with Wales in the evening and then going all the way back because that’s where their job was. The amount of commitment to do that is incredible. Hats off to them. It’s great now these girls have got the opportunity to maximise their potential.”
Wales will have the chance to show what progress they have made when they face Ireland at the RDS in Dublin this Saturday, March 26 (4.45pm kick-off) before hosting three home games at Cardiff Arms Park this campaign.
“So far, so good,” Bevan said of preparations for what is set to be the most competitive tournament yet, albeit mostly so in the third to sixth positions. “We’ve got Ireland first up which is going to be a tough game out in Dublin. We’ve definitely got our eye set on three games that we can potentially win, and I think for us then it’s giving England and France a real run for their money and being as competitive as we can in those games.”
In a World Cup year – it is being staged in New Zealand in October and November having been postponed by 12 months – the potential growth and popularity of women’s rugby is being taken seriously. Stars of the men’s game like Ugo Monye and Brian Moore have been firm advocates of supporting the development of women’s rugby for some time.
But, for those men relatively early in their Test careers, is there ever a conversation to be had about using one’s platform for good? “I think we all understand that it’s important,” Adams responds. “Each player is different. Some people are a lot more comfortable expressing their opinions and talking openly about things. Some players might think exactly the same but are not as comfortable to say these things for whatever reason, worried about getting some criticism or getting shut down.
“We always encourage each other in this environment that if you’ve got something to say, make sure you speak up, because everyone’s opinion matters – to us, anyway. I think that’s important for all of us, to realise that no matter who you are, how many caps you’ve got, whatever, your opinion is valued and if you really think something is important then speak up.”
That brings us nicely to the topic of, well, talking. Wales fly-half Elinor Snowsill is just one player to have pointed to Bevan in recent weeks when asked to name the loudest member of the squad. “I have no idea how she can use so many words!” Bevan’s Bristol Bears team-mate Snowsill admitted. “She talks non-stop, it’s hilarious. I love her to bits, but she can talk to a wall!”
Bevan herself shrugged and mimed “probably me” when the subject of biggest chatterbox came up, taking herself off mute to profess: “I just like to chat! I’ll chat to anyone, but on-pitch I’m probably one of the quietest. Off-pitch I’ll speak to anyone. Friendly, ain’t I?!”
As for Adams, he sticks to a PG reason for what his Wales team-mates give him flak for: “Probably just being a little bit reckless sometimes, I’ve given away a couple of stupid penalties. I maybe lose the head a little bit too quick.”
If there’s one thing which has quickly become apparent during this chat, it’s the local rivalry between Hendy and Pontarddulais, the Welsh village and town on the border of Carmarthenshire and Swansea which are separated by the River Loughor.
“I’m a Hendy boy,” Adams explains. “I’m from the village next door to where Keira’s from, she’s a Pontarddulais girl. I moved across the bridge – the Hendy bridge – when I was maybe 10 or 11. We lived in a housing estate called Parc St Teilo. I lived right around the corner, opposite the park and Keira was about six or seven doors up at the top of the street.
“There was a massive park outside the front of the house and it had a massive green next door to it, and that’s where basically all the kids from the estate used to congregate and play. That’s when I first met Keira. I remember Bulldogs a little bit, but it’s a while ago now and I’ve got a memory like a fish!”
Bevan had moved in aged around eight and still calls it home today. “I have an older brother who’s a similar age to Josh and Josh has got a brother who was a bit younger than me,” Bevan reminisces. “As you do when you’re younger, everyone gets on with everyone and whoever wants to play plays. You’d never want to go home for your food, anyway!”
Was she the only girl involved in playing sports? “I feel like I probably was the only one!” the No. 9 laughs. “I’ve grown up with boys my whole life and grown up on the rugby scene with Pontarddulais RFC and things like that. I played for Hendy when I was younger as well, my dad played for Hendy as well and my brother, so I’ve always been around boys. That never fazed me. It was probably when I had to spend more time with girls was when I was probably like ‘what is going on?!’ I was more than happy and I felt more comfortable to be honest, being around the boys.”
“It was just me and my parents and my brother when we went up there,” Adams says, before adding with a wry smile: “Since then, we’ve moved back to Hendy. We had enough of Bont so we moved back!”
Bevan beams as she admits the rivalry is “massively” played upon, while Adams explains: “We probably make it out to be a lot worse than what it actually is. We’ve got loads of players playing for Hendy senior team who live in Pontarddulais and played for Pontarddulais, boys go back and forth, the pubs where they all go are in Pontarddulais – they’re all friends, really, but we like to make a mountain out of a molehill if you like just to add to it.”
As our allotted time draws to a close, the floor is opened to any questions they’d like to ask each other. Bevan is straight in there: “How much do you miss living in Bont, then? That’s what I want to know! I reckon it’s a lot!”
A quiet smile breaks out on Adams’ face. The old hometown rivalry returns momentarily. “Sorry Kie I don’t at all. The times I lived in Bont were great, it was good for mixing with all the other kids in the housing estates but I’m happy where I am! I’ve moved out of Hendy and Pontarddulais area so I’m just up the road. The only real time I go back into the village is either to see the boys down the club or up to my parents’ house. I’m not there too often. I’m sure if I was I’d see a lot more of Keira.”
The friends, old playmates and former neighbours bid their sincere goodbyes with good luck messages before heading back to their separate wings of the NCE. Quite remarkably, the old neighbours and childhood friends have gone on to beat the odds to make it to the top to represent Wales, albeit via very different journeys.