Catherine Richards is a name that many Welsh rugby fans will soon be familiar with. The 21-year-old winger has been impressing with her performances for Gwalia Lightning, one of the two Welsh teams in the Celtic Challenge, a cross-border competition that features teams from Ireland and Scotland as well.
Richards has scored three tries in two games for Gwalia Lightning, showing her speed, strength, and skill on the wing. She was instrumental in helping her team win the first-ever Welsh derby against Brython Thunder, scoring two tries in the first half. She also crossed the whitewash in the opening round against Glasgow Warriors, a team that boasts several Scotland internationals.
Richards’ form has not gone unnoticed by the Wales head coach Ioan Cunningham, who was present at Rodney Parade to watch the Welsh derby. Richards was named in the 2023 Six Nations squad, but did not get a chance to make her debut. She was also overlooked for the WXV1 tournament, a new global competition for women’s rugby, where Wales finished fourth in their group.
However, Richards is not giving up on her dream of playing for her country. She says she is grateful for the opportunity to play in the Celtic Challenge, which gives her a chance to showcase her talent and learn from her teammates and opponents.
“I’m really enjoying playing in the Celtic Challenge. It’s a great platform for me to develop as a player and to test myself against some of the best players in the world. I’m always looking to improve and to learn from the feedback I get from the coaches and the senior players. I’m also very proud to represent Gwalia Lightning and to be part of this new chapter for Welsh rugby.”
A bright future ahead
Richards is not the only young star in the Gwalia Lightning squad. The team also features several Wales Under-20 and Wales rugby league internationals, such as Nel Metcalfe, Caitlin Lewis, Sian Jones, Carys Hughes, and Gwennan Hopkins. Metcalfe, who plays at full-back, made her Wales debut in the autumn and was named player of the match in the Welsh derby. Jones, who plays at scrum-half, also impressed with her sharpness and vision.
The Gwalia Lightning squad is a mix of youth and experience, with five full Wales internationals in their ranks. Abbey Constable, Bryonie King, Kate Williams, Molly Reardon, and Jenni Scoble provide leadership and guidance to the younger players, as well as quality and consistency on the field.
The team is coached by former Wales international Rachel Taylor, who has been praised for her positive and progressive approach. Taylor says she is delighted with the progress of her team and the potential of Richards and other young players.
“Catherine is a fantastic player and a great person. She works hard, listens well, and always gives her best. She has a lot of natural ability, but she also has a lot of room to grow and to improve. She has a bright future ahead of her and I’m sure she will get her chance to play for Wales soon. She’s not the only one, though. We have a lot of talented young players in our squad who are eager to learn and to challenge themselves. They are the future of Welsh rugby and I’m privileged to work with them.”
The next challenge
Gwalia Lightning are currently second in the Celtic Challenge table, behind the unbeaten Irish side Clovers. They will face another tough test in their next game, when they travel to Dublin to take on the Clovers on Saturday, 13 January. The game will be a good opportunity for Richards and her teammates to measure themselves against some of the best players in the world, such as Ireland captain Ciara Griffin and star fly-half Hannah Tyrrell.
Richards says she is looking forward to the game and hopes to continue her good form and to help her team win.
“It’s going to be a hard game, but we’re ready for it. We’ve been training well and we have a lot of confidence in ourselves and in each other. We know we have to play our best rugby and to stick to our game plan. We also want to have fun and to enjoy the experience. It’s an honour to play in this competition and to wear the Gwalia Lightning jersey. We want to make ourselves, our coaches, and our fans proud.”