Women’s Six Nations: Wales need to look ‘deeper’ after sobering Ireland defeat

Home » Women’s Six Nations: Wales need to look ‘deeper’ after sobering Ireland defeat

As Wales bullied Ireland off the park in Cardiff 12 months ago, so Ireland repaid the favour in Cork on Saturday.

Wales were dominated from the whistle as Ireland romped to a five-try victory in front of a roaring home crowd.

And as Ireland celebrate a triumphant transformation on and off the pitch, it is Wales’ turn to take a good hard look at themselves.

Their progress as a professional outfit has come to a sobering and grinding halt.

“Sometimes these things humble you… we were beaten by the better team,” said Wales head coach Ioan Cunningham after the 36-5 Women’s Six Nations defeat.

“We’ve done really well up to a point but we need to look a bit deeper at where we can really make changes. We know that other teams are improving.

“I think this is a real opportunity for us to reflect hard, but credit to Ireland.”

Winless Wales

Wales have played three and lost three in this year’s Six Nations, with a targeted third-place finish almost out of reach with games against France and Italy to come.

The Welsh camp said in the Ireland build-up, that despite their now six-match losing streak, confidence was high, but they are looking more and more like a side who have forgotten how to win.

You have to go back to last summer to when Wales last tasted victory in a friendly against USA.

Speaking after the game, a clearly disappointed Wales captain Hannah Jones said “they didn’t turn up” and questioned the “want” of her professional side. It is hard to disagree with that assessment.

Wales’ focus was also on being clinical and taking chances after only scoring one try in 13 visits to England’s 22 in the last round.

But chances never came at Virgin Media Park, Wales rarely got a sniff of the Irish try line as they were second best in every aspect of the game.

Tries from Aoife Wafer, Eve Higgins and Neve Jones inside the first 30 minutes signalled Irish intent to right the wrongs of last year’s 31-5 drubbing.

It could have been worse, the bonus point would have been wrapped up before the break had Alex Callender not come up with a crucial turnover.

But that fourth try came within seconds of the restart as Katie Corrigan charged down Lleucu George’s clearance kick. Beibhenn Parsons was over shortly after to rub salt into Welsh wounds.

The only positive Wales can take is from replacement Gwennan Hopkins who scored on her international debut.

What has gone wrong?

Wales’ 2023 Six Nations campaign was a roaring success and testament to their professional programme, with rising stars such as Sisilia Tuipulotu.

Three bonus-point wins was their best finish since 2009, while securing an all-time high world ranking of sixth.

It also bagged them a place at the top table of women’s rugby in WXV1, and despite heavy losses to Canada, New Zealand and Australia in the autumn, they insisted that is where they want to be again this year, to learn from the best.

It will now be a dog fight to secure a place in WXV2, which they would need to win to qualify for next year’s Rugby World Cup.

They could even end up in WXV3 should they finish bottom of the table, something unthinkable this time last year.

“On the surface of it, we’re going through a bit of transition with the playing group,” said Cunningham.

“Players that have had a lot of experience have retired – Elinor Snowsill, Sioned Harries, Caryl Thomas – but we’re seeing green shoots of amazing young talent like Gwennan Hopkins and Sian Jones.

“There’s also other things that we need to get right in our game, it’s probably more to do with how we cope with pressure, performing and delivering on the big stage, rather than technical, tactical or physical.”

But Cunningham once again could not fault the effort of his team.

“I think you saw how we responded in that last 10-15 minutes, we didn’t give up, we had a try disallowed but we still kept going, so that’s the character and the pride that we’ve got in our group,” he said.

“It’s just the start and being able to execute opportunities.”

Deeper problems

Naturally in a results-based business, questions are going to be asked about the players and the coaching staff after not only six straight defeats, but the way in which Wales have appeared to take a backward step in their professional journey.

Cunningham is contracted up until the 2025 Rugby World Cup and remains committed to the cause.

“I think I’m the right person to lead this team, obviously there will be other people who can make those decisions, but in the cold light of day I think we have to be honest with each other,” he said.

“We’re probably not comparing apples with apples with different countries at the moment.”

Cunningham said the problem runs a lot deeper and Wales are in desperate need of their own domestic league.

“I think we’ve reached a point now where there is so much good talent coming through in Wales and we’ve got nowhere for them to play, and that is something that we’ve got to seriously look at.

“Playing at under-20s level is brilliant, but then where do they play after that?

“The Celtic Challenge is only a short window and for us to get into that top five in the world we have got to have a domestic competition that provides high-quality rugby for our players.”

All but a few of Wales’ squad ply their trade in England’s Premiership Women’s Rugby (PWR).

Cunningham has made no secret of not being shy in knocking on the door of the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) bosses and he said the domestic league is something “I’ve already brought up”.

“It’s a long-term thing, it’s not going to happen overnight. There are players like Sian Jones, Gwennan Hopkins, Molly Reardon, where are they going to play?

“A big shift needs to happen for us to have the quality players playing regularly, as well as players that are performing well in the PWR, suddenly everything rises.”

In the meantime, Wales will need to salvage what they can from this campaign, firstly by claiming a big scalp against the French, who are on course to once again challenge England for the title.

It would then set up a finale against Italy, which this year will be played at the Principality Stadium.

In what Welsh rugby are hoping will be a record crowd, let us hope Wales are playing for more than the wooden spoon. We already have one of those thanks.

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