Six Nations for Women: Bring on the World Cup for Wales

Wales huddle
After their 10-8 loss to Italy at Cardiff Arms Park, Wales gathers together in a huddle

It's easy for one to feel somewhat overwhelmed by Wales' Six Nations campaign.

It was clear from the beginning that this would be the game in which all the pieces of puzzle would fit together. This would be Wales' complete 80-minute performance

Italy had other ideas when they arrived in Cardiff. They wanted to finish strong and won.

Wales set themselves realistic goals to beat Ireland, Scotland, and Italy in their first campaign of professional players. England and France showed they are still an elite level above.

Except for the last page, everything seemed to be following the script.

While players and coaches were disappointed by the loss, Meatloaf, a late rock star, sang that “two out of three isn't bad”.

Wales finished third in the Six Nations, their best result since 2009. This is progress.

Restoring pride

The players have won back the nation's hearts with this campaign.

Positive comments on social media are common, visits to the milk shop for a pint now take longer because fans want to interact, and the Scotland match attracted record attendance for a women’s international in Wales.

It's hard to believe that it was just 12 months ago that the same group wept after another defeat.

Cerys Hale and Elinor Snowsill were two of those who admitted to considering quitting international work at the time.

The main catalyst for the change was, without doubt, the professional contracts. They were pushed forward by Nigel Walker, the Welsh Rugby Union's new performance chief.

It was January that a dozen players emerged as history-makers from the Principality Stadium's smoky tunnel, having signed the union’s first 15-aside, women’s professional contracts.

For Lisa Neumann, wing, it was life-changing. This meant no more eight-hour round trips to Cardiff from Manchester three times per week for training.

This was in addition to holding down a high-profile position – but that is what the jersey represents.

Twelve other players signed retainer contracts in the weeks that followed. This allowed them to become part time professionals. Three more are available now.

How to manage expectations

While it is unlikely that Wales will be Grand Slam champions in just a few months, there are some signs of improvement.

With nine tries in just two games, the bonus-point wins over Ireland and Scotland gave them a competitive edge.

There are many lessons to be learned from the two crushing defeats that came after. Both the first half against England, and the second against France proved that Wales is capable of competing with the best teams around the globe.

Siwan Lillicrap, Wales captain said that if someone had told him he would finish third in the campaign, he would have taken his hand off.

“The leap from sixth to third in the last few decades is huge.

“But that doesn't mean we should stop moving forward. We, the women of Wales, want to challenge ourselves against the best in the world.

Wales' depth and strength is undoubtedly the best in recent memory, leaving Ioan Cunningham with serious selection headaches.

Sioned Harries provided one of her greatest contributions since she was taken from the international wilderness.

She was a barnstormer number eight, which showed that she is still of world class level at 32 and is currently in contention for a fourth World Cup.

The bench of Wales also had a significant impact.

Eighteen out of 12 Wales' tournament tries were from substitutes. It is clear that the contributions of players like Harries and Donna Rose, Kelsey Jones, Ffion Lewis, and their starting roles at the final match, cannot be underrated.

Players have described the atmosphere in camp as the best they have ever experienced.

Sioned Harries
Sioned Harries, prior to the friendly against USA in March had not worn the Wales jersey since over two decades.

Credit to the coaches

Since Rowland Phillips' departure in 2019, this is the first year that there has been a stable team of coaches entering the Six Nations.

Mike Hill joined Richard Whiffin and Sophie Spence as campaign leaders. They will be there until after the World Cup.

Cunningham was linked to a return to Wales Under-20s following the showpiece. But he insists that he is not being pressured. “full attention” is with the womenUntil then.

The union also brought in Adam Thomas to be a part time skills coach, and George Morgan to be a nutritionist. Cunningham states that a kicking instructor is on Cunningham's list for the summer.

It is an area in which Wales has had a difficult time.

Cunningham stated, “You just have to look at England and France, even Italy, they've got kickers who can kick with length and kick off the frontfoot tactically.”

“There's so much kicking now, and the defences are improving. You can't play through an opponent's team so you need to play around or over them. That's where the kicking game comes into play.

“It's something we have addressed before the World Cup.”

Mike Hill, Ioan Cunningham and Richard Whiffin during training
L-R : Mike Hill (assistant Coach), Ioan Cunningham and Richard Whiffin.

What about Wales' World Cup hopes, then?

They will be playing in a pool alongside hosts New Zealand, Australia, and Scotland. The opening game is on 9 October.

Wales can travel down under confidently, even though there are still areas to improve – such as the kicking and finishing off teams when the opportunity arises.

The players will return to their Premier15s clubs until June before they come back for Cunningham's “tough Pre-season” in August.

The plans are for friendlies against Canada or England. Contract discussions will also take place, as the initial agreements were only for 12 months.

Cunningham said, “It is important that players arrive at the World Cup having had that dealt with so they are able to perform without having to worry about other things.”

Final words

What are the final words of the skipper and coach as they leave another Six Nations?

“I've loved working with this team of players. Cunningham stated that the players want to learn, want to improve, and their passion for the jersey are unmatched.

“I'm just so happy to be a part of this group, and I'm excited about what we can accomplish. Because I believe hard work can make October special.

Lillicrap stated: “I wish we had inspired a nation. I hope it restored belief in a little.”

“The positivity that has grown from week one, beating Ireland to last weeks defeat against France has been overwhelming.

We are grateful for all your support and for sticking with us. This is only the start. We are sure there will be more.

This is what it appears. There is no doubt. Bring on the World Cup.

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