Uncapped Wales lock Liliana Podpadec is thrilled to be mixing it with seasoned internationals in her quest for a first international cap this autumn.
The Llandaff North captain and second row was selected in the squad for Wales’ three November Tests after standing out in club performances and at the recent Talent ID Day organised to identify and develop potential international players.
The lock is looking to make the most of the experience to learn, having recently featured in an opposed training match against world number two side, and former world champions, New Zealand.
“It’s a big step up coming from Welsh club rugby, especially after such a long lay-off, but I’m treating every day and every training session as a learning opportunity.
"I’ve got a long way to go personally, especially in terms of my confidence but just to be able to train consistently with these players is helping me a lot.
“It was an amazing experience. New Zealand are the best team in the world, not many people get to come up against them in a match scenario.
"I’ve taken a lot from that day, things I can work on to get better.”
After playing rugby for home club Winsombe and Somerset as a teenager, Liliana represented Cardiff Rugby for a number of years while at Cardiff University.
She also featured in an Emerging Wales side alongside the likes of Manon Johnes, Alex Callender and Meg Davies in 2018 and was even invited to join a wider Wales squad in 2019.
But Podpadec feels now is the right time to commit to her goal of representing Wales, a personal dream that would also make her Welsh family very proud.
“My dad was brought up in Hirwaun and mum’s family is from North Wales so playing for Wales has always been an ambition for me and if I realise that dream, it will mean a lot to all of my family.
"Luckily we can now have crowds at our matches so I’m sure my family and friends will be very supportive if I’m involved in any way.
"My father’s family are originally from Slovenia and my brother Lewis has been capped by Slovenia so he’s a role model in terms of working hard to achieve your goals.
"When I was approached to be part of the wider squad a few years ago I was still in Uni and it just didn’t feel right but I’m more settled now and ready to give it my best shot.”
With no competitive club rugby in Wales for almost 18 months, the enforced break meant she returned with a renewed hunger to reach her undoubted potential and she is certainly making the most of every opportunity to progress.
“The lockdowns gave me a clean break from rugby. I kept up with my strength and conditioning at home but also enjoyed other sports like mountain biking. I think that break has made me enjoy rugby even more since we’ve been able to return on a competitive basis.”
Head coach Ioan Cunningham is pleased with how Liliana, and the other new players to the environment have settled into camp.
“There is clear improvement as players are learning new structures and stepping up to the international environment – especially those who have come from the community club game such as Liliana. The new players wouldn’t have ever faced opposition such as the Black Ferns so it was great to see them gain from that experience.”
Cardiff Arms Park is the home of Wales for the upcoming season, which kicks off on Sunday as they welcome Japan to the capital. With fixtures against South Africa and Canada also on the horizon, make sure you join us for what should be a cracking autumn campaign. Tickets are availble to purchase NOW!