W6N 2022: Wales Team Preview

By: Jackie Finlan, The Rugby Breakdown

For Wales, these past 12 months have marked programmatic lows, followed by historic firsts, and the 2022 women’s rugby Six Nations championship will reflect the impact of important changes made in-house. There’s new leadership in the coaching staff, a renewed commitment from the Wales Rugby Union (WRU), and real funding behind the first class of professional Welsh women rugby players.

Wales went winless at the 2020 Women’s Six Nations tournament, and a coaching change followed. Warren Abrahams took over as head coach in November 2020, and former Wales captain Rachel Taylor joined as a full-time national skills coach. But Taylor resigned just before the 2021 championship began, and Wales went on to lose 53-0 to France, 45-0 to Ireland, and 27-20 to Scotland.

In April, a group of former Welsh internationals sent a petition to the Wales Rugby Union, connecting its lack of support with the international results of the previous two years.

“The results of the last two Six Nations games are a product of the current environment, which brings us to the crisis point we have feared was inevitable; your systematic dismantling of the age grade and development pathways, which you inherited from the WWRU, contribute significantly to the failures of the women’s rugby game in Wales today.”

The Welsh rugby union responded, hiring Nigel Walker as its Performance Director and installing a Ioan Cunningham-led coaching staff through the Rugby World Cup. And then days before Wales’ November test series began, the WRU announced its commitment to a new professional era for Wales women’s rugby. By February 2022, 12 full-time and 12 retainer (or part-time) contracts had been awarded - just one tenet of the programmatic revamp.

On Nov. 8, Wales snapped its 32-month losing streak with a 23-5 win against defeated Japan 23-5 (Joyce 2T, Lillicrap T, Snowsill 2P, C). On Nov. 13, the Wales women’s rugby team beat South Africa 29-19 (C Phillips 3T, F Lewis T, Snowsill 3C, P). The series ended with a 24-7 (C Phillips T, Snowsill C) loss to Canada, but Wales led the (then) No. 3-ranked team in the world for the first 60 minutes.

“It has been excellent putting the new structures in place, a new coaching group, spending quality time together as a team and improving from Japan and South Africa. I’m happy with the whole campaign,” Wales head coach Cunningham said.

The players’ performances informed the first round of pro contracts, and then camps and an exhibition match against the USA Falcons on March 12 provided further intel on who had Rugby World Cup potential. (See squad list for full-time and retainer contracts)

“We firmly believe this new way of working will make a huge difference to how competitive we can be at next year’s Rugby World Cup,” Cunningham said. “We will be able to go from catching up with players at weekend training camps and one midweek session to training up to four times a week. We will be able to develop individual performance plans for the players to manage and maximise their potential.”

Even though Wales is only a couple of months into its new set-up, all eyes will be gauging the shift’s impact on the women's rugby Six Nations. Lillicrap captains the 37-player squad, which includes veteran experience that shone in the November series. Wales welcomes back row Sioned Harries, who has been absent from the red jersey since November 2019, as well as the rehabbed Kayleigh Powell, center Gemma Rowland and hooker Kelsey Jones. Six uncapped players have also been named and eagerly await their debuts.

“It’s all about momentum in the Six Nations so if we can get something out of our first game, we will look forward to coming home to face Scotland at Cardiff Arms Park and then we have two of the best teams in the world – England and France – either side of the break in the tournament,” Cunningham told www.wru.wales. Wales kicks off its women’s rugby Six Nations campaign on Saturday, March 26 against Ireland. Tune in and watch Wales continue to make history.

FIXTURES AND RESULTS

26 March - Wales 27 - 19 Ireland

2 April - Wales 24 - 19 Scotland 

09 April - Wales 5 - 58 England 

22 April - Wales v France @ 20:00 UK

30 April - Wales v Italy @ 12:00 UK

WALES SQUAD

^ Full-time contract
* Retainer contract

FORWARDS (20)

Alisha Butchers (Bristol Bears)^
Alex Callender (Worcester Warriors)
Gwen Crabb (Glouecster-Hartpury)*
Cara Hope (Gloucester-Hartpury)
Kat Evans (Saracens)*
Abbie Fleming (Exeter Chiefs)*
Cerys Hale (Gloucester-Hartpury)*
Sioned Harries (Worcester Warriors)
Natalia John (Bristol Bears)^
Manon Johnes (Bristol Bears)
Kelsey Jones (Gloucester-Hartpury)
Bethan Lewis (Gloucester-Hartpury)*
Siwan Lillicrap (Bristol Bears)^
Liliana Podpadec (Llandaff North)
Carys Phillips (Worcester Warriors)^
Gwenllian Pyrs (Sale Sharks)^
Donna Rose (Saracens)^
Jenni Scoble (Llandaff North)
Caryl Thomas (Worcester Warriors)
Sisilia Tuipulotu (Gloucester-Hartpury)*

BACKS (17)

Keira Bevan (Bristol Bears)^
Lleucu George (Gloucester-Hartpury)*
Emma Hennessy (Cheltenham Tigers)
Hannah Jones (Gloucester-Hartpury)^
Jasmine Joyce (Bristol Bears)^
Courtney Keight (Bristol Bears)
Kerin Lake (Gloucester-Hartpury)*
Caitlin Lewis (Exeter Chiefs)*
Ffion Lewis (Worcester Warriors)^
Lisa Neumann (Gloucester-Hartpury)^
Lowri Norkett (Pontyclun)
Kayleigh Powell (Bristol Bears)*
Gemma Rowland (Wasps)
Emma Swords (Harlequins)
Elinor Snowsill (Bristol Bears)^
Niamh Terry (Exeter Chiefs)*
Robyn Wilkins (Gloucester-Hartpury)

Note: Georgia Evans was also awarded a retainer contract but is unavailable for selection due to injury.

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