The glory days were special at Cardiff Met - but a new era for the Archers is beginning to shine through

Lisa Newton experienced huge success as a player with Cardiff Met

It has been a few years since Cardiff Met's Women were the leading force in University Rugby but at Kingsholm on Wednesday, the dormant giants of the student game showed signs they were stirring once again.

The Archers lost 29-14 to current champions Hartpury and suffered their first defeat of the BUCS National League season, but the positives arguably outweighed the disappointment.

Last month, Lisa Newton's side began the campaign with a 26-19 win over Exeter before beating Loughborough 26-12. Despite seeing their perfect start to the term come to an end in Gloucester, the grittiness and cohesiveness of Cardiff Met was noticeable. "The girls will beat themselves up enough about the result, but I think there are lots of things they can take from this performance," reflected the Archers head coach.

There was one element in Met's performance which was a running theme throughout the contest. The sheer physicality displayed by the Welsh institution stunted Hartpury on multiple occasions and while the weather also caused havoc, the Archers' rearguard action only added to the frustrations of the champions.

While Newton was offering words to her players during the 80 minutes, the work rate in defence wasn't down to her coaching.

"Do you know what? That hasn't come from me as a coach," Newton confirmed. "That has come very organically from the players. Our leader, our captain this year - EC Cantrell - has really brought a little bit of chutzpah to the team and I love that. She is leading by example and others are following her. I will have a look back at the footage, but I think the physicality we brought as Cardiff Met was outstanding.

"We always will be disappointed with a loss. I think what we need to do is reflect on how we connect together as a team and how we bring our other aspects of the game up to meet that physicality."

Newton's answer is an interesting one. Having leaders in any sport is key but the Met head coach doesn't need anyone to tell her that. A playing career which includes university titles with the Archers as well as representing Wales in Six Nations and World Cup tournaments speaks for itself, but sculpting holistic individuals is an important part of the ecosystem when it comes to the student game.

"If you look at the athletes we are working with, they are young women who have to balance rugby and their university lives," said Newton. "I have been there! I think having senior players who have got the right attitude and the right values to lead you forward, I don't necessarily think that comes down to the rugby skill then. It's the person and I think we have got a really good group of leaders around us this season which is putting us in the right direction for future years.

"There are so many personal skills and life skills that come along with any sport, but rugby, in particular, the discipline, the resilience, those types of skills I don't think you can find anywhere else."

Newton - who is now focusing on the women's rugby programme at Cardiff Met on a full-time basis - has a vision but the past glories she experienced whilst wearing the Archers crest acts as a source of inspiration.

The former back-row forward played in the university's period of dominance and captained the side to the BUCS Championship in 2010. Met then went on to become one of the most successful sides in university sport by lifting their 10th title at Twickenham back in 2016 with players such as Wales internationals Elinor Snowsill and Jasmin Joyce also part of their golden era.

Red Roses centre Tatyana Heard played in Met's last championship triumph and now the 27-year-old is preparing for a World Cup semi-final against Canada while alumni Gwen Crabb, Lleucu George and Lowri Norkett - to name but a few - represented Wales over in New Zealand.

"I was part of that past success," Newton added. "I came in as a fresher, became captain so for me, I think how we approach the programme as a whole is super important. 

"You've got to be proud of our girls and hopefully they remember their time fondly at Cardiff Met. People can see that and perhaps make their choices of university based on thinking; 'actually, there is a real pathway there.'

"I genuinely believe we can bring that back here. We have worked hard to create the right environment and culture. Now we need to look at process and performance.

The 'environment and culture' Newton refers to is being soaked up by the talent the Met head coach has at her disposal. Skipper Cantrell is a USA U20 international while Katie Mackay (England U18s) and fly-half Mya Dixon (Wales U18s) have also represented their country at age grade level.

Winger Catherine Richards and coach Caitlin Lewis (Wales senior international) were back on home territory on Wednesday as their parent club is Allianz Premier 15s outfit Gloucester-Hartpury while scrum-half Seren Singleton turned out for Wales 7s in the summer.

"I have got a little girl and she's four," added Newton. "I am nine months pregnant and due to pop at any point! When I look back now and we talk about development, I want them to see strong females in their lives. Having this group of young athletes with us now, I think it is so important for our future generations to see that as well.

"The whole thing is really important to me and I really want to bring back the tradition of winning to Cardiff Met. I don't think we have reached our full potential in who we can create on the world stage."

Newton told broadcaster and journalist for BUCS, Claire Thomas, that this group of Cardiff Met players are "blossoming into a proper Archers team" and that quote is just another example of the work being done behind the scenes in the Welsh capital.

By full-time in the pouring Gloucestershire rain, Met spirits may have been dampened on Wednesday but the vision to nurture future internationals - whilst also bringing success back to the side - shone brightly throughout.