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Wales Online
Wales Online
Katie Sands

Belief, euphoria and a surprise scalping — The last time Wales beat the Red Roses

A drama-filled, stunning Welsh victory over England. Ecstatic players in red. Dejected English opponents.

For many in this corner of the world, it's what rugby dreams are made of, and while Wales Women aren't accustomed to a plethora of wins against the Red Roses nowadays, it's not a thing of dreams.

It has happened twice in our history: the most recent occasion being a 13-0 Welsh win eight years ago in the 2015 Women's Six Nations.

It is a tale of hope, belief, instinct and togetherness, one which the current professional Wales team will be hoping to replicate when England head to a sold-out Cardiff Arms Park on Saturday, April 15.

Here's what happened on that very special day eight years ago:

The lay of the land

Wales, as they always have been until 15 months ago, were amateur and players combined rugby with full-time jobs or education, with official backing and resource nothing to write home about. The women in red had only won against England before, in a 16-15 thriller in 2009, and headed into this St Helen's clash bidding to give a better account of themselves after losing 35-3 in 2014.

World champions England, meanwhile, headed to Swansea in a state of flux with a new coach and only three starters from that famous 21-9 World Cup final win over Canada only six months earlier, after which six retirements followed including Katy McLean and Maggie Alphonsi moving on. Professional contracts had been offered to 20 players, but only to sevens specialists as they targeted the Rio Olympics the following year, and only two of them would start at Swansea RFC with most of the rest in Rio on World Sevens Series duty.

Less than a fortnight before the Six Nations came the bombshell that England head coach Gary Street, in that role for eight years, was stepping down. RFU head of women's performance Nicky Ponsford became interim coach, and while admired for her work she had not coached at international level.

Still, England were the overwhelming favourites.

At this point, the Women's Six Nations was starting to become more competitive. England hadn't won the title since their seventh successive trophy two years earlier, with Ireland and France winning the two intervening titles.

Belief, hunger and a scalping

"You've got to believe that in every game, you've got to believe you're going to win, but on paper they were always the team that should win," 70-cap former Wales front-rower Catrin Edwards tells us. "They were world champions. Everybody thought they were going to win. Deep down, you know it's going to be a battle."

That's what England were expecting, too.

“Everyone wants to take England’s scalp,” Red Roses vice-captain La Toya Mason had said in the build-up. "And even more so now that we’re world champions. The Welsh are that kind of side. They’ll come at us at 110mph.”

That, they did.

A stunning win

Wales standing up to England up front ultimately proved pivotal, with their ferocious tackling and powerful forwards continuously pushing their opponents in white back. When the back row and midfield too charged at Wales, they did not falter.

An even first half was capped off by Welsh wing Laurie Harries, who with the last kick of the opening 40 slotted a penalty in the Swansea sunshine to give her side a three-point lead. The advantage could have been bigger had Harries not missed a kick in front of the posts midway through the half, but the goalkicking was poor from both sides and not what it is today.

Laurie Harries of Wales kicks at goal (Huw Evans Picture Agency)

After the break, inspirational captain Rachel Taylor continued to be head and shoulders above with her ball-carrying and contact, while imposing No. 8 Shona Powell-Hughes and a Sioned Harries in her mid-twenties on the flank impressed with every phase.

After a winning a lineout, Wales battered away at England line and finally got their first crossing thanks to tighthead prop Catrin Edwards charging her way through English defenders to score the game's first try five minutes into the second half.

"I think I only scored about four tries for Wales!" Edwards recalls. "It was nothing classy like Laurie Harries. Mine was just a classy pick and go! Still, I'll take the points."

Catrin Edwards of Wales scores her team's first try of the game (Huw Evans Picture Agency)

As in the first half, England's Megan Goddard couldn't nail her penalty kicks so the visitors remained scoreless, while English debutant Sydney Gregson was relentlessly targeted under the many high balls sent down her left wing. Replacements were deployed to offer fresh energy and Saracens hooker Victoria Fleetwood and Worcester scrum-half Bianca Blackwood were both influential, while No. 8 Alex Matthews ran hard and made ground.

Then, the game finisher. Wales fly-half Elinor Snowsill, who starts at Cardiff Arms Park this Saturday, sent a perfectly-weighted cross-field straight into the arms of Harries, who sidestepped a defender to race the length of the 22 to seal a famous victory.

Veteran Wales No. 8 Sioned Harries remembers: "It was just a feeling of complete disbelief at the time because they were the World Cup winners in 2014 and that was the first Six Nations after that tournament. I remember Elinor Snowsill's perfect cross-field kick for Laurie Harries. You tend to see things like that pulled off in training, but never in a game. It was just one of those days when everything was going our way and everything just worked."

Wales players Elinor Snowsill (left) and Shona Powell-Hughes celebrate (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

The celebrations, and sign of the times

Remarkably, nothing had changed preparation-wise heading into this encounter. But something clicked.

Snowsill says: "It was the Six Nations just after they'd won the World Cup so they were on a pedestal. They did have a couple of players out with sevens duty which obviously helped us, but we just went there with this determination to keep them out. I hit a cross-field kick to Laurie and she stepped the full-back to score. I remember celebrating with the girls and just the feeling afterwards, that was a really good performance for us."

Wales centre Kerin Lake says: "It was quite local for me. It was unreal, and that was off the back of a World Cup year as well. Anything can happen."

While the jubilance in the moment was indescribable, reality soon hit. The game was held on a Sunday, so players soon had to make their way home and prepare for work the following day.

PE teacher Edwards says: "It was on a Sunday down in St Helen's and we all got the bus back to Cardiff to get our cars and then back home because we had work in the morning. I was teaching at 9am that Monday morning. I remember the head master congratulated us because it was a big win. But there was no going out or celebrating! We couldn't."

Wales are all smiles for the camera (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Wales v England now

The 2023 Women's Six Nations encounter at a sold-out Cardiff Arms Park is being billed as Wales' best chance of beating the English since eight years ago.

Against a team who regularly put 50 points or more on their opponents, there has to be realism too, but there is a quiet confidence in this resurgent Wales team meaning a win isn't entirely off the cards.

"For me, England this year, it's going to be interesting," Snowsill says. "I think they've got quite a few injuries so probably some new faces in there, they know they're going to be having a coach change in the summer so I think of all the years this might be the year that we can really look to close the gap on them."

Lake echoes that sentiment: "We're not under any illusion that we're going to go out there and beat them by 70 points but the aim is to close that gap and keep closing it year on year."

Edwards believes Wales don't need to change anything just because it's England who are heading to town. "They don't need to change anything this weekend - it's just going into every game as it is and making sure they give them a good challenge."

The famous victory in 2015 has been spoken about in the build-up to this Saturday's top-of-the-table clash, but Wales head coach Ioan Cunningham is keen to focus on the here and now.

"We did look at it briefly, but we've also been quite clear that the past is the past, we can't change that, and we need to focus on what's coming in front of us. If we get enough possession I believe we can trouble England and test them. I really do. We've got some exceptional players on the field that have been performing well. It's giving them enough ball to be able to do that on Saturday."

Wales players celebrate Laurie Harries' try by mobbing her (Huw Evans Picture Agency)

Wales Women: Dyddgu Hywel (Pontyclun/Scarlets); Elen Evans (Waterloo/Scarlets), Adi Taviner (Skewen/Ospreys), Gemma Rowland (London Wasps/Dragons), Laurie Harries (Llandaff North/Blues); Elinor Snowsill (Dragons), Amy Day (Llandaff North/Dragons); Caryl Thomas (Bath Ladies/Scarlets), Carys Phillips (Skewen/Ospreys), Catrin Edwards (Llandaff North/Scarlets), Rebecca Rowe (London Welsh/Dragons), Rachel Taylor (Bristol Ladies/Dragons - capt), Sian Williams (Worcester/Dragons), Sioned Harries (Whitland/Scarlets), Shona Powell-Hughes (Skewen/Ospreys).

Replacements: Amy Lawrence (Skewen/Ospreys), Jenny Davies (Caernarfon/Blues), Amy Evans (Skewen/Ospreys), Jenny Hawkins (Llandaff North/Blues), Melissa Clay (Pencoed/Ospreys), Keira Bevan (Skewen/Ospreys), Robyn Wilkins (Llandaff North/Blues), Kerin Lake (Skewen/Ospreys).

England Women: Kay Wilson (Thurrock), Ruth Laybourn (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Abigail Brown (Bristol), Megan Goddard (Worcester), Sydney Gregson (Bristol), Ceri Large (Worcester), La Toya Mason (VC) (Wasps), Rochelle Clark (Worcester), Emma Croker (Richmond), Laura Keates (Worcester), Tamara Taylor (capt; Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Rowena Burnfield (Richmond), Hannah Field (Richmond), Hannah Gallagher (Saracens), Alexandra Matthews (Richmond).

Replacements: Victoria Fleetwood (Saracens), Victoria Cornborough (Richmond), Justine Lucas (Lichfield), Abbie Scott (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Harriet Millar-Mills (Waterloo), Bianca Blackburn (Worcester), Lauren Cattell (Saracens), Katie Mason (Bristol).

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