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Page last updated at 13:57 GMT, Thursday, 11 March 2010

Whipping Welsh netball into shape

By Nick Webb

It's a midweek evening at the Welsh Institute of Sport in Cardiff - and several hundred spectators, mostly under 25, mostly female, are making as much noise as their team can decently expect.

Celtic Dragons in action
Celtic Dragons are the only Welsh club in netball's Superleague

But should they expect more? Netball is, after all, the most-played women's team sport in Wales - and this side, the Celtic Dragons, is the top team in Wales, the country's only representatives in the Superleague which also includes seven English teams and one from Scotland.

Things have been better in terms of the world rankings, though, and, after a disappointing year in 2009, Welsh netball has copied its rugby counterparts and drafted in a New Zealander.

Rugby's "great redeemer" Graham Henry was considerate enough to bring along his wife Raewyn to coach the national netball team, but since Warren Gatland doesn't come with a "buy one coach, get one free" offer, it's up to Melissa Hyndman to provide a new impetus to the sport in Wales as the first full-time elite coach.

"We're lucky with funding back home in New Zealand but netball doesn't get as much funding as male sports do," Hyndman tells BBC Sport Wales.


But there's no slack cut for her new charges.

"Let's face it, these girls are lucky they're playing indoors, I've been in Fiji and we played mostly outdoors, back in New Zealand we played out in the rain and the facilities we have here are magnificent," said Hyndman.

In fact, with temperatures sub-zero outside, the Dragons players would probably be battling hypothermia as well as a slick Northern Thunder outfit who take charge of the game from the first quarter onwards.

Their cause isn't helped by the fact that teenage-shooter Emma Thomas, who has the best percentage in the league, is laid out after crashing into the advertising boards.

Her replacement is Cara-Lea Moseley, and it's no surprise from her lanky build to learn she's the daughter of Welsh rugby second-rower Kevin.

Celtic Dragons in action
I said to the players they're playing in one of the world's most prestigious competitions

Wales coach Melissa Hyndman on Superleague

It's a young Dragons side on court with wing defence Sara Hale, the stand-in coach until Hyndman's arrival, the only player past her mid 20s.

And it's nearly all Welsh as well, with combative Aussie wing-attack Kyra Neal the only import.

But even though she says there's "great talent" coming through, Hyndman sounds frustrated that the team isn't doing better after several years of struggles in the lower reaches of the Superleague.

"I think it's a great league, I said to the players they're playing in one of the world's most prestigious competitions and I don't think these girls quite understand that," she said.

"They take this league far too lightly and there's girls over the over side over the world that would die to be involved in a competition at this level."

Strong words indeed, but the tough-talking Kiwi isn't put off by the fact that she has to demand professional attitudes from players who are lucky to get petrol money for turning up, apart from a couple who work for the Welsh Netball Association as development officers.

"You have to train every day and I'm expecting these girls to train a lot more than they do currently," she said.

"My shooters should be shooting 250 balls a day, these girls want to move up and they want to represent Wales.

"I expect a professional attitude on and off court, I think they want it and it's a question of me applying it."

But on the night it's the Manchester-based Thunder who look more efficient, pulling away to win 62-32 to leave the Dragons still just a point off the bottom of the league... and the home crowd is reduced to polite applause before drifting away, as the players chat with family and friends.

Hyndman delivers a few words of consolation and advice to her troops before turning her thoughts to the challenge ahead, with the Europe Open (effectively a British affair), the Commonwealth Games, and a tournament in Singapore all on the horizon this year.

Melissa Hyndman
I think we've got great talent coming through... it's exciting!

Wales coach Melissa Hyndman

The Dragons squad will be reinforced when they do battle in Wales kit, though.

Leeds goal-defence Joanne Davies, TeamBath centre Amanda Trounce, and Loughborough shooter Rebecca James are all Superleague players who'll be involved, even if Hyndman is still struggling to recall surnames.

"There's a need for development, they're 19th in the world and that attracted me - there's lots of potential," the coach maintains at the start of her four-year contract here.

But, unlike the Warren Gatlands of this world, she has to help spot talent for the next decade as well- watching youngsters from under-14 level upwards at the annual inter-counties age-group championships.

"I think we've got great talent coming through, we're putting brand new pathways together, but it's a matter of building not just players but coaches and umpires all the way up," she said. "It's exciting!"

Given the need to build a "professional" structure on a shoestring budget, you have to wish her luck.

On the other hand, if she cracks the whip over her players as she says she will, Hyndman may just make things happen.

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see also
Netball results
24 May 06 |  Netball
Wales name first full-time coach
24 Nov 09 |  Netball
Welsh netball's Kiwi connection
23 Apr 03 |  Features
Find a club
10 Oct 05 |  Netball
Welsh netball contacts
11 Oct 05 |  Netball

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