In our new series, Behind the Player in association with Deloitte, Ulster’s Women players share a little bit about themselves, as well as recommendations for coping during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This week, we spoke to Ulster’s Neve Jones, Malone’s top try-scorer and the Energia Women’s AIL Rising Star Award-winner.
Tell us a little about your rugby pathway to date.
Being a kid growing up and as soon as I could walk, my dad had us playing rugby in the living room together and I tackled my brother – I’m not sure how happy he was about it! Around P2 or P3 I went to Ballymena and took up rugby there with the boys. Once I got to first year at school, my mum said I couldn’t play rugby with the boys anymore and I was a bit heartbroken! I was a bit lost about what to do for a while but at the age of 14 I went to a summer camp and was the only girl there. A guy at the summer camp gave my mum contact details for someone at Malone Rugby Club where I have been playing my rugby since. At Malone, I got scouted to play for Ulster U18s which then led me to play for the senior squad.
Who have been the main influences in your rugby career?
All my friends and family are super supportive and pushing me to go as far as I can. Dad would be the main rugby fan but mum has driven me all around the country to get to training and matches. She’s always bringing snacks and baked goods for the team and me. There’s nothing you want more after a training session than a homemade treat!
What barriers have you had to overcome to reach this point?
After playing mini rugby when I got to secondary school age, there was no girls’ team in Ballymena so I had to look elsewhere. Travelling to Belfast to play the sport I wanted to play when I was studying for my GCSEs and A-Levels took up a lot of time. Trying to organise myself so I could do well in my exams while doing my strength and conditioning, training and matches was hard because the rugby wasn’t readily available for me in Ballymena. I wouldn’t have changed anything though because it has put me where I am today.
Your stellar performances for Malone led to your call-up to the Ireland Six Nations squad and were due to make your debut against France before COVID-19 – that must have been incredibly frustrating but you must be excited that it’s a sign of things to come?
What have you been up to in the last couple of months since the onset of COVID-19?
I moved back up to my mum’s house so I’ve been helping her out a bit. I’ve been doing a lot of baking which I really enjoy doing. I’ve fallen in love with CrossFit workouts which are different to what I’m used to. Once COVID guidelines eased a bit, I’ve been at the beach trying to learn how to skimboard which hurts a lot but it’s too much fun not to continue doing.
How do you stay motivated?
All my friends and in particular, my teammates have been working out and I’ve been doing the same. Some of the guys I work with at Ulster Rugby send me exercises and we bounce off each other. Because we don’t know when the end in sight is, you’ve got to keep yourself ticking over; we could come out of this in say six weeks or three months having to play rugby so we have to stay fit. Working out is something I enjoy so it works well for me!
What have you been doing to stay fit – any tips you can share?
Try and do Zoom workouts or meet in a park and exercise while keeping apart. Working out with other people definitely helps; I know when I’m on my own it’s not as fun as you don’t have that chitter-chatter in between sets. There are videos across Facebook and YouTube that can keep you motivated and ticking over.
What about any healthy eating advice? What’s the best meal you’ve made at home?
I love cooking and baking but I’m going to be honest, I don’t follow recipes so I make it up as I go along. They always turn out well though! At the minute, I’m really getting into Mexican food so I’ve been making burritos, nachos and tacos and I love experimenting with all the different spices and herbs that you can use to change the flavours.
With the baking I’ve been making everything from cookies to cakes to pastries and everything in between! I’ll give anything a whirl and so far, so good; I haven’t had any disasters yet! I try to make them as healthy as possible if I can; baking is harder and cooking is easier to make something healthy.
Some of Neve’s food creations
What have you been doing to stay calm and enjoy yourself while at home?
A big thing for me is working out; it just puts your mind at ease and you forget about everything that’s happening. It’s an hour of thinking about nothing else other than the exercise you’re doing.
My sister is home from uni, so it’s really good to see her. We’re reminiscing about things we did as kids and mucking about in the garden.
Zoom calls to catch up with your mates to see how they’re doing really help, as well as getting outside whether it’s going to the beach or a walk in the forest to stay calm. It can be difficult at times but you have to put things into perspective; the situation is improving and you can slowly start to see people outside and at a distance. It really helps to see your friends and family.
Have you picked up any new skills or hobbies?
Bracelets and scrunchies made by Neve
Have you got any streaming or book recommendations?
I’m not the biggest reader but my friend gave me the book, “Normal People”, which is now on BBC. It’s the first book I’ve read in a long time and really enjoyed it.
I’m not going to lie, I haven’t been that adventurous with TV series; “Friends” and that’s about it! I’m trying to stay away from Netflix as long as possible so I don’t get sucked into watching Netflix all day; I’m trying to go out and about as much as I can, so “Friends” is about the limit at the moment.
What has been the best rugby advice you’ve received?
What has been your proudest moment in rugby?
That’s a tough question; I’ve had loads of proud moments! In 2016, I was the captain of the Ulster U18 squad and we won the Interpros. Words can’t describe how good it felt to win that. Getting your first senior cap and getting called up to the Ireland training camp; you can’t really beat those experiences. I know that each rugby moment is going to top the next one because of how hard I’ve worked to get where I am today and hopefully work harder to get even further.
What are your aspirations in rugby?
My aspirations are to pull on a green jersey some day and continue to do so if I get my first cap and see how far I can take that. I also love coaching rugby and seeing future generations pick up the sport, especially when you see girls in primary schools who have never played rugby before and they thrive in playing. They love it because it’s inclusive of everyone so they all get to experience the sport or have had that fundamental introduction to rugby and then pick up later in life. There are girls I’ve coached who are 15 or 16 are picking it up at uni and are loving it. That’s huge for me to see the girls progress because if we don’t have kids continue to come through, women’s rugby wouldn’t exist.
I can’t envisage my life without coaching. Every part of it I love; even the bad days when it’s raining and everyone is complaining because it’s cold, once they get stuck in, you just see them thrive in that environment. I can’t see my life without coaching or being involved in rugby in some capacity. I hope it will be in coaching as there is so much you can learn from it.