Jasmine Joyce is taking nothing for granted as she targets a place in the Great Britain squad for the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Although Joyce is one of only four women in the 19-player training group who featured in Rio five years ago, she insists that “no one’s safe” when it comes to selection now.
“Competition is through the roof and I don't think anyone could call who's going,” she told World Rugby. “It's just going to push us to get even better and be the best player we can be in six months' time.”
However Joyce is aware, as the countdown to Tokyo hits 100 days, that she could soon be able to call herself a double Olympian.
“It would be insane,” she said. “I'm trying not to think about it, as in selection process-wise, and just enjoy the moment of being a full-time rugby player.
“But obviously, it's always there in the back of your mind. 'What can I do to be on the plane?’ 'How how can I make sure I'm there?’ and stuff, but, to go to a second Olympics would be mental.
“Growing up playing rugby since I was seven and then potentially having the opportunity to go to two Olympics would be something you just don't even think about when you're seven years old… it would be amazing.”
Going for gold
Joyce admits that for those four surviving Great Britain players from Rio, the bronze final defeat to Canada will provide ample motivation this time around.
“[There’s] definitely some unfinished business,” she said. “It's hard coming fourth, really hard.
“I think that's probably one of the hardest positions you can come because you're so close to actually getting a medal.
“But, again, trying not to think that far ahead, we’re going there to win gold, not bronze… gold is what we're going for.”
At the end of February, Joyce was one of 40 male and female players selected for the Great Britain sevens programmes as preparations for Tokyo benefitted from a commercial partnership with the UK’s National Lottery.
Her time over the past few weeks has been split between Great Britain camps in Loughborough, Wales training on the outskirts of Cardiff and a trip to France, where she played 80 minutes of her country’s Women’s Six Nations defeat.
Involvement in the training squad has come with a short-term professional contract, the first Joyce — a player who represented Wales at Rugby World Cup 2017 and the Commonwealth Games 2018 — has signed to play the game she loves.
And, she says she is already feeling the benefit, less than a month into life as a full-time pro. “It's such a massive difference,” Joyce said.
“Even the physios are saying that I'm so much more stretchy, flexible and stuff like that because we've been given the opportunity to recover, we have downtime where we can recover.”
She added: “I'm in a really fortunate position now to call rugby my job, which is what I've wanted for so long.”
Prior to signing her sevens deal, Joyce had walked the same tightrope as most of her Wales and Bristol Bears team-mates, juggling the many commitments of an elite amateur athlete.
For the bulk of her playing career Joyce’s working day, as a personal trainer, started at 05:00 and lasted until 14:00 before she spent an hour in the gym herself. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays that routine would be followed by several hours of rugby training.
During the pandemic she made the decision to train to become a primary school teacher at University of Wales Trinity Saint David in Swansea. The majority of her year has been spent on placement, meaning Joyce was in school between 07:30 and 16:00 before heading to training up to four times a week, either in Bristol or Cardiff.
On the two evenings a week that she trains with the Bears, she may not get back home to Swansea — at least a 90-minute drive from Bristol — until 23:00.
“It does get really tough to balance full-time work, social, training,” Joyce, who is planning to complete her teaching degree in September, said. “Because effectively the hours we put into training is like training like a full-time rugby player, a full-time athlete.
“So, to do that alongside full-time jobs — so 37 hours a week — is really tough and draining. I'm really fortunate now to be able to be contracted through GB… me and [Wales team-mate] Hannah Jones are really fortunate to be in a position to say we are full-time athletes.
“People sometimes don't understand maybe the work that goes on, or the work that needs to go on, to be a full-time athlete in a sense of we need to eat properly, recover well, analyse the games.”
Joyce added: “Obviously, family and friends understand it, well, we're moaning to them all the time.
“But, I think the outside world doesn't understand what we put in and what we have to go through to play for Wales — and none of us would sacrifice that and give up playing for Wales.
“But, at times there we're like, ‘I can't do this anymore’, [we’re] mentally and physically just drained.”
The Bristol Bears winger was speaking prior to the start of Wales’ Women Six Nations campaign, in which Warren Abrahams’ side has lost to both France and Ireland.
Joyce believes that without professional contracts, the squad will find it difficult to keep pace with their northern hemisphere rivals.
But, she has been impressed with the ideas and approach that Abrahams and his coaching staff have brought to the squad in their first Women’s Six Nations together.
“He's very much an open book in a sense of if you see that something's on, do it rather than being so structured in everything we do,” she said.
“Just play heads-up rugby, and I think that's what we as a squad have been wanting for so long.”
Playing instinctively has certainly paid dividends for Joyce during her time with Bristol, for whom several of her more spectacular tries have become viral hits on social media.
“It's awesome, always as a winger you want to be scoring tries and scoring good tries,” she said. “But, I can only thank my team-mates for that.”