Women’s Six Nations: Wales’ campaign ‘not all about results’

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14 players made their senior debuts for Wales in the 2019 autumn internationals

Wales Women were hoping to end their Six Nations campaign on a high but concerns over the spread of coronavirus has shelved that opportunity.

Scotland – also winless so far in the tournament – were Sunday’s opposition at Cardiff Arms Park but the game has been postponed after one of their players tested positive for Covid-19.

A further seven members of the Scotland camp – players and management – are self-isolating.

And with no set date for the finale, now would be a good time take stock with the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup just around the corner.

The Good

Despite the unexplained absence of head coach Rowland Phillips, Wales won three of their five autumn Tests, with victories over Ireland, Scotland and Crawshays.

Coaching trio Chris Horsman, Geraint Lewis and Gareth Wyatt gave debuts to 14 players, 11 of which were chosen again in this year’s Six Nations squad.

Megan Webb, the cousin of Wales scrum-half Rhys Webb, has become a regular in the centre, with Caitlin Lewis also looking a fine prospect on the wing despite limited opportunities to show what she can do in attack.

There was also a special first cap for Robyn Lock after recovering from cancer.

With former skipper Carys Phillips out of favour in the autumn and omitted entirely from the Six Nations squad, so came the opportunity for Siwan Lillicrap to wear the captain’s armband.

The number eight’s passion for the jersey shone bright on and off the pitch.

Siwan Lillicrap says it is a dream come true to captain Wales

The Not So Good

Wales went into this year’s Six Nations with a squad seemingly bursting with young talent, but after four rounds the table does not make for good reading.

The campaign began with losses to Italy and Ireland, two games which would have been targeted before taking on semi-professional France and professional England.

The word “clinical” kept coming up post match, Wales often lacking the accuracy when try scoring opportunities arose.

There was also the argument of coaches not picking their best players, namely Sioned Harries and the aforementioned Carys Phillips.

Harries, 30, was a natural leader and regular try scorer under Rowland Phillips, but did not make the squad despite having over 50 caps and being in good form for club side Worcester Warriors.

Coach Chris Horsman explained they were looking to build a wider pool of players and “develop leadership qualities throughout the squad”, but added the door was not closed.

Wales could also be forgiven for experimenting with selection having already qualified for the World Cup, unlike Italy, Ireland and Scotland who are fighting for ranking points.

What the camp say

In all pre and post-match interviews players and coaches kept reminding the press of the journey they were on.

Lillicrap explained with so many new caps, the campaign was “not all about results” but where they go from here.

“As a squad we’ll review, reflect and work hard over the next six months,” she said.

And the captain was always full of pride for the way her players “fronted up”.

“What you can’t fault is the girl’s heart, want and desire to get better and play for each other,” she said.

“That’s something you can’t coach or enforce, that’s something that’s already within us.”

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Coach Gareth Wyatt is confident the players will get their “just rewards in time”.

“I’d be wrong to say we weren’t disappointed with the first two results,” he said.

“We’re trying to get to fourth or fifth best in the world and if we can achieve that it means results will start to get a bit tighter, so I guess in that respect it is a bit of a longer journey for us.”

Asked about team selection, Wyatt said: “Everyone who’s come into the team has certainly shown they’re capable at this level.

“The key for us is building towards the World Cup. We could have a four day turnaround and it’s unlikely you will play five games with the same 15 which possibly we have been guilty of in the past.”

Reaction and analysis

Philippa Tuttiett says there is ‘no good time to blood youngsters’ after Wales Women’s disappointing Six Nations

Former Wales player Philippa Tuttiett said Wales were unlucky with how the fixtures fell this year.

“I would have preferred to have seen Italy and Ireland towards the latter stages when they would have had time together, time to build and time to learn,” she told Scrum V’s women’s podcast.

“However that said, they always knew what the fixture list was going to be and they were just a little bit slow off the start. Italy was the frustrating one as it was there for the taking, just potentially not the right game plan.”

Tuttiett’s “shining beacon” was how well Gwenllian Pyrs, Kelsey Jones and Cerys Hale bedded into the new front row.

“Wales go to England in front of 11,000 people, and in the first scrum of the game Wales annihilated them.

“All three of them have taken their opportunities, specifically Kelsey Jones and Cerys Hale. Not only did they front up in that scrum, they did it for the entire game.

“The team collectively made over 200 tackles, a ridiculous defensive effort.”

Kelsey Jones celebrates scoring a try against France

Former Wales vice-captain Gemma Hallett said it was disappointing the Scotland game could not be played as it “would have showed us where we really stand.”

She questioned why “big players are not playing”, alluding to her former team mates Harries and Phillips.

“There is a consistency of dropping experienced girls,” she said, “there needs to be an environment that nurtures players and leans into experience, not fear and feel challenged by it.

“There’s a drop off between Siwan and the next leaders on the pitch. You’ve got Kerin Lake and Keira Bevan who are great players that she can lean on, but outside of that there’s no leadership across the team.”

Hallett is concerned about a lack of experience and game time for the current squad members ahead of the World Cup.

“One of the players doesn’t even play for a club, another plays for a university side and was starting against the French team,” she said.

“You’re asking a hell of a lot for girls to go out there and put their bodies on the line. It’s David v Goliath stuff.

“We’ve got a World Cup next year and I can’t see many of those girls really enjoying the journey.”

Hallett has also spoken out of how she feels the WRU manages the senior women’s game.

Before the Women’s Welsh Rugby Union amalgamated into the WRU in 2007, she recalls women had a “strong” Premiership structure, regional programme, an under-20s side, a development side and a senior team.

Those pathways she feels have since been “decimated”.

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What now?

With the Scotland game postponed, players now face the unenviable task of fitness testing before heading back to their clubs or to the sevens circuit.

Jasmine Joyce, Hannah Jones and Keira Bevan have all been included in the initial GB Women’s Sevens squad for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

There is hope for more autumn Tests going into the 2021 Six Nations, before the World Cup kicks off in New Zealand in September.

Meanwhile the WRU is already on the hunt for the next generation of female internationals, with Wales rugby legend Liza Burgess brought in to assist and mentor new players.

She will be keeping a close eye on the talent identification day on 9 April for girls aged 16 and over.

It follows the union’s Rookie Rugby sessions during which 10,000 school girls were introduced to rugby.

You can listen to the final episode of the Women’s Rugby Union Weekly of the Six Nations on BBC Sounds here.





BBC News

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