Rafiuke Taylor: Flying wing to make rugby league history

Rafiuke Taylor
Rafiuke Taylor is renowned for her speed and fitness

Rafiuke Taylor is proof it's never too late to try something new.

The Barry fire-fighter won her first Wales rugby union cap aged 36 when most players are considering hanging up their boots.

Five years on she is preparing to captain Wales women's first-ever rugby league side.

And should she win a cap against England next month, she'll become Wales' first female dual code international, following in the footsteps of male players like Jonathan Davies, Scott Quinnell and Scott Gibbs to name but a few.

Perhaps what's most impressive is the flying winger stumbled on rugby by accident.

"I was a late starter, I didn't even realise female rugby existed until I was about 34 or 35," she told BBC Sport Wales.

"It was kind of dropped on me. I was supposed to be going on a date and he was like 'can we go a little bit early so I can watch my friend play rugby?' and I was like 'really?'"

But within minutes Taylor was enthralled and joined Barry ladies at training the following day.

"I'm very competitive so even when my fitness levels weren't the best, I was like 'I'm not going to lose this' and then I'd go die in a corner somewhere," she said.

Rafiuke Taylor
Taylor began her career with Barry before joining Sea View and Pontyclun Falcons

A couple of years later her electric pace, which would challenge GB Olympic sevens wing Jazz Joyce on her day, caught the eye of Cardiff Blues selectors, but it wasn't just the region who were impressed.

"I hadn't even been picked for the Blues. I was sat in the house waiting for the team to be released and I had a phone call from Sophie Bennett (Wales team manager at the time) saying they'd like me to come training.

"So after I finished running around the house saying 'yay go me', I came back and sat there biting my nails waiting for the Blues."

Taylor won five caps playing in the 2013 Six Nations and 2014 Rugby World Cup.

She currently plays for Pontyclun Falcons in the Welsh Premiership but heard of Wales rugby league trials over the summer. She didn't give it much thought but was persuaded to go down to help boost numbers.

"We played a game and I just had the best time. League suits me better, it's very quick, lots of running rugby and less stoppages," she said.

Not only did Taylor make the 24-strong squad for their first ever international matches, she has been chosen to captain the side.

"It's very overwhelming to be the first captain. It's been a bit of a whirlwind... I'm honoured beyond belief. I'm also excited to hopefully be the first Wales dual code rugby international since Gareth Thomas."

"I'm not much for words, I'll be leading from the front. My team talk will pretty much be 'let's go smash it' and then I'll be running around like a nutter."

Rafiuke Taylor and Elen Evans
Taylor playing for Wales alongside Elen Evans in a world cup warm up match against the USA

Taylor has been named in the starting team which will warm up against Great Britain Teachers in Neath on 26 October before the first full test against England Lions in Wigan on 16 November.

"I think we're ready," said Taylor, "we're gearing more towards the competitive side of the game, whereas before it was just a little bit of fun, a little bit of extra rugby. But as time has gone on and with the media following, people are more 'this is competitive now, this is proper and I've got to get my head on'."

The two autumn games are part of a plan to enter a Wales team at the 2021 Emerging Nations World Cup, which Taylor says they are definitely good enough for.

"It's a good 18 months away, that's plenty of time. The women here are so passionate about the game, we'll be up there and ready to compete with the best."

Taylor has been a fire-fighter for 20 years, and says she can always rely on her Barry colleagues for a bit of banter.

"If you catch them on a bad day they go 'how's the touch rugby? Have you expanded to a full pitch yet? Have you got a full size ball yet?'.

"But on a real level they're really supportive, they come help me in the gym and want to be part of what I'm going through."

Rafiuke Taylor with her fellow Barry fire-fighters
Taylor has been supported in her rugby career by her fellow Barry fire-fighters

Wales squad: Vicky Lea (British Army), Lauren Aitken, Leanne Burnell, Harriet Cooksey, Danyelle Dinapoli, Seren Gough-Walters, Emily Hughes, Kim Jones, Laura Keeble, Savannah Ledsam, Rebecca Llewellyn Ennis, Charlie Mundy, Kathryn Salter, Rafiuke Taylor, Jess Wallington (all Cardiff Blue Dragons), Karla Benjamin, Shaunni Davies, Zoe Lewis, Joeann Mcguire, Megan Oaten, Ffion Owen, Sara Prosser, Rhian Stephens, Stacey Wright (all Rhondda Outlaws).

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