Strange as it may sound, St Patrick’s Day is an auspicious date in the history of Welsh women’s rugby. Back in 2007, on March 17, Ade Howell invited his sister’s English university team to Neath Port Talbot to play the mothers of the junior boys’ team he was coaching. The mothers didn’t look back and nor did Ade, who has been leading and developing the women’s club game ever since.
Since he was nine years old Ade has played rugby but he was struck by the inequality: “Women’s rugby was seen as an outside concept and I thought it was unfair that women didn’t get the same opportunities. Back then, women’s rugby was very much on the backburner and I was frustrated with the attitude that it was a dying sport, especially knowing how much my sister loved it.”
Ade went on to set up a women’s league group and structure which has allowed clubs across the country to shape and manage the way they want the leagues to run. It has certainly worked, in 2009 there were only 14 clubs, there are now 70 with more coming on board all the time.
Known as the Go To Guy, Ade dedicates over 35 hours a week to supporting the leagues and acting as the main contact point with Women’s Rugby.’Virtually every evening, he works his way through a barrage of emails, doing everything from coordinating the week’s results to offering indispensable advice to new team managers. He also handles all the administration including league rules, complaints, permits and travel expenses.
Ade plays down his efforts as minor and his response to this nomination was very telling: “When the BBC called I was about to go into a meeting so I arranged to speak to them later, I just thought they wanted help with something, probably contact details for a club. I was gob-smacked when they told me I was a finalist in the Wales Sport Awards.”
Yet it is Ade’s determination and hard work which have seen a 313% increase in the number of games played since 2010:
“We’re doing things right now. Women’s rugby is really booming, it is growing week by week. My passion is for giving girls more opportunities to play. Everyone can get involved, from those who just want to enjoy a game through to talented athletes with real potential to shine at international level.
His motivation is simple: “Get them playing!”.