Cardiff Blues and Wales flanker Manon Johnes has already achieved a lot in her young rugby career. But it was a Wales international footballer that inspired her onto the highest level, as the 20 year old revealed on the latest episode of the Welsh language Cardiff Blues Podcast.
Having won her first Wales cap at 17 years old, the forward - who is now 20 years old - is now an Oxford University student, juggling her education with her rugby career, as she plays for Cardiff Blues, Wales and Bristol Bears.
But, the earlier days of her rugby career was at Ysgol Glantaf, which has been home to stars such as Jamie Roberts, Nicky Robinson, Seb Davies and Rhys Patchell.
The physical education teacher at the school is Gwennan Harries, a former Bristol and Everton footballer who won 56 caps for her country.
Johnes says the school played a pivotal part in her path to the international stage as Glantaf girls were encouraged to take part in a variety of different sports.
Speaking on the podcast, which is available now on all major platforms, Johnes said: “There was a real emphasis on taking part in all sports, not just rugby, so I would be taking part in sports like hockey, netball and cross-country running and then going to rugby training in the evening.
“That really helps to mould you as an all-rounded athlete rather than just a rugby player, so they don’t force you to choose one sport in particular.
“My P.E. teacher was Gwennan Harries, who played international football for Wales, and she was a role model for me because she knew what it took to reach those international standards.
“Other teachers like Rhydian Garner were also big help, and they all helped with the gym and gave me the motivation to continue to work hard.
“Glantaf is pretty unique in their attitude towards sports. I think they helped me become a more all-rounded player and the most important thing for me was to continue to play multiple sports until you have to stop.
“When you eventually turn your attention to one sports, and for me going to rugby training throughout the week, you miss taking part in hockey and netball, which didn’t seem as important at the time.
“You don’t quite realise that when you’re running around the field for the fifth time for cross-country, but it’s what makes the school experience special. Being in Glantaf with the variety of sports and the atmosphere there was unique.
“Teddy Williams was in the same year as me, and we grew up together playing for CRICC before he moved to Glantaf for sixth form. Ioan Lloyd, who plays for Bristol Bears now, was another one at CRICC and Glantaf.
“There have been a lot of players who have come from Glantaf to play at a high level.
“We were given opportunities to go to Canada in 2016 and in 2019 we went to South Africa to play rugby.
“They were amazing experiences and I enjoyed South Africa because it’s so different to back home. The way they live, and their history, is completely different and it was nice to play against people from different countries.
“It was an amazing opportunity, and I’d love to have that chance again. There aren’t many schools that offer trips like that to girls’ teams and there were more than 30 of us on those trips so it was great.
“I grew up admiring Jessica Ennis-Hill because of the 2012 Olympic Games, when she won at the heptathlon.
“Growing up, the pathway for women’s rugby wasn’t as clear so it was more difficult to have those role models, compared to now.
“I really looked up to Gwennan Harries, probably more than I realised at the time.
“I focused a lot on myself, rather than look to other people, but she always ensured that I’d be doing my work in the gum at six in the morning.
“Even during my A Levels and GCSEs, I’d still go to the gym in the morning and I could never say ‘no’ to her, so I’d always end up competing in the cross-country competitions.
“You really appreciate the influence of those people, especially after you’ve left school. She knew a lot of the Wales women rugby players as well, because they’re around the same age, and I admired her a lot when growing up.
“She was the one who pushed for a girls rugby team at Glantaf, and we ended up reaching the final at Rosslyn Park, which was special. There are so many opportunities for girls at Glantaf, and that’s amazing to see.”
Johnes was part of the launch for the new Cardiff Blues Women kit recently, which promoted World Rugby’s ‘Unstoppables’ campaign, with support from sponsors Route Media, Land Rover, Renishaw and LexisNexis Risk Solutions.
However, the Geography student spent a few frustrating months on the sidelines after suffering a pretty unusual injury in training: “I picked up a dead leg in a training session, and if you’re not in the contact sports environment, it can be quite hard to explain a dead leg.
“It sounds like a lot less hassle than it actually is.It’s like a contusion to the leg but you should be back in action after a couple of weeks.
“But this one took quite a while to recover from, and I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t walk.
“I’d pulled out of one of the autumn international games and was targeting a return for the next one.
“So I was training with the Wales team and I hit the exact same spot once again. I couldn’t walk at all and it was the worst pain I’ve ever had.
“I was still treating it as a dead leg, but when I was driving into work I couldn’t change my clutch, and couldn’t move my leg at all.
“It was so stiff, and after a couple of months the physios realised that this wasn’t an ordinary dead leg any more.
“I was sent for an ultrasound, and usually the blood will bruise and come up to the skin. But instead of doing that, the blood has calcified and turned into a bone.
“So I still have a 20 centimetre bone in my quad, which will be there forever.
“I had to go on really strong anti inflammatories, which are usually used to treat arthritis. That helped my leg to start moving again, and I was out in the end from September to January.
“I got back playing for Bristol in January, but it was a really tough time because I wasn’t sure what was wrong with my leg. It became frustrating because I treated it as a dead leg, but in reality I had an extra bone in my leg.
“So now I’m playing with a huge pad on the top of my leg, in case I have another bump on there and I’m unable to walk.”