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Wales Online
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Katie Sands

Wales captain recovers from Covid and exciting teen set for first cap in Ireland Women's Six Nations opener

Wales captain Siwan Lillicrap will lead her side out to face Ireland in Saturday's Women's Six Nations opener after recovering from Covid (4.45pm kick-off). The No. 8 had tested positive for coronavirus last Wednesday but returned to training on Monday this week.

It means 58-cap Sioned Harries, who made her return to the Wales set-up after two and a half years in a Six Nations warm-up this month, has to make do with a place on the bench.

Rising teen talent Sisilia Tuipulotu is in line for her first Wales cap if she comes off the replacements bench. Read more about her remarkable rise here.

Read more: Wales' transformed rugby team uncovered as new pros given chance to become world-beaters

This is the first competitive match Wales head into since 12 full-time professional contracts were signed in January, followed by 12 part-time retainer deals. Wales head coach Ioan Cunningham has opted for 10 full-time pros in his starting XV, with four more on semi-pro retainer contracts. It is a far cry from Wales' last match against Ireland, a 45-0 defeat in last season's Six Nations. It proved to be the real low point for Wales Women and prompted public calls for better support from the WRU which we are now seeing.

Kayleigh Powell starts at full-back to make her first Test outing since last year's tournament. She is joined in the back-three by wingers Lisa Neumann and Jasmine Joyce. Experienced centres Hannah Jones and Kerin Lake partner in midfield and Keira Bevan and Elinor Snowsill, who has recovered from a calf strain which kept her out of the Six Nations warm-up against USA, link up at half-back.

As for the forwards, former captain Carys Phillips makes her first Six Nations appearance in two years having returned to a Wales line-up during the autumn for the first time in two years with a hat-trick against South Africa. She is partnered by Gwenllian Pyrs and Cerys Hale in the front row, with Natalia John and Gwen Crabb packing down in the second row. Alisha Butchers and Alex Callender combine with Lillicrap to complete the back-row.

Hooker Kelsey Jones is in the matchday squad after missing the autumn internationals, also accompanied on the bench by Cara Hope, Donna Rose, Bethan Lewis, Ffion Lewis and Robyn Wilkins.

Wales boss Ioan Cunningham said he has gone for a mix of experience and exciting young talent. He said: "It’s good to have players like Kayleigh, Kelsey and Sioned back in the squad at the start of this tournament.

"Sisilia has settled in well to the training environment after taking up a retainer contract and she fully deserves to make the next step to international rugby. The more exposure we can give her at this level, the more comfortable she will be.

"The game against USA two weeks ago gave everyone a chance to stake their claim so we are certainly rewarding performance but also very conscious that we have three Test matches in three weekends. There is now healthy competition throughout the squad which is ideal. We want to build on the good progress we saw in the autumn. We want to play a high tempo game and have challenged the players to perform at high intensity."

As for the hosts, Ireland boss Greg McWilliams has named an inexperienced squad for his first game at the helm. Full-back Eimear Considine is the most capped player at 23 appearances. Aoibheann Reilly will make her debut at scrum-half, while there could also be first caps for Christy Haney and Anna McGann if they come off the bench.

McWilliams said: "This is a great start for us as a group, we're really excited about the youth and experience in the team. We'll learn a lot from this game, but for these players to go out and represent Ireland at the RDS is going to be special. It'll be a great occasion and I'm excited to see how they perform, because we've got through a lot of work over the last couple of weeks."

Wales Women: 15. Kayleigh Powell, 14. Lisa Neumann, 13. Hannah Jones, 12. Kerin Lake, 11. Jasmine Joyce, 10. Elinor Snowsill, 9. Keira Bevan, 1. Gwenllian Pyrs, 2. Carys Phillips, 3. Cerys Hale, 4. Natalia John, 5. Gwen Crabb, 6. Alisha Butchers, 7. Alex Callender, 8. Siwan Lillicrap (capt).

Replacements: 16. Kelsey Jones, 17. Cara Hope, 18. Donna Rose, 19. Sioned Harries, 20. Bethan Lewis, 21. Ffion Lewis, 22. Robyn Wilkins, 23. Sisilia Tuipulotu.

Ireland: 15. Eimear Considine, 14. Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, 13. Eve Higgins, 12. Stacey Flood, 11. Lucy Mulhall, 10. Nicole Cronin, 9. Aoibheann Reilly, 1. Linda Djougang, 2. Neve Jones, 3. Katie O'Dwyer, 4. Nichola Fryday (capt), 5. Sam Monaghan, 6. Dorothy Wall, 7. Edel McMahon, 8. Brittany Hogan.

Replacements : 16. Emma Hooban, 17. Chloe Pearse, 18. Christy Haney, 19. Anna McGann, 20. Hannah O'Connor, 21. Kathryn Dane, 22. Enya Breen, 23. Beibhinn Parsons.

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