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Wales Online
Wales Online
Katie Sands

Wales name team to face Ireland in Women's Six Nations opener

Wales head coach Ioan Cunningham has named his side to take on Ireland at Cardiff Arms Park in the opening Women's Six Nations match on Saturday (2.15pm kick-off).

Wales, who now have 25 full-time professional players in their ranks, will be bidding to build on their third-place finish last year, which marked their best in 13 years and came just months after historic WRU playing contracts were first awarded.

But that task has been made more difficult by Ireland, Scotland and Italy all following in Wales' footsteps by professionalising their women's programmes since the 2022 championship. While England and France remain more than a few steps ahead having been pro for a considerable length of time, this is set to be the most competitive tournament so far in terms of the rest of the table.

READ MORE: Wales star to make Six Nations return after horror match incident sparked fears she could lose arm

Wales boss Cunningham, who is on board up to and including the 2025 Women's Rugby World Cup in England, has opted for Hannah Jones and Kerin Lake as his centre partnership, while Elinor Snowsill and Keira Bevan will line up in the half-back pivot.

Elsewhere Courtney Keight is named at full-back and Lisa Neumann and Carys Williams-Morris are selected on the wings. Up front Sisilia Tuipulotu is joined in the front row by Gwenllian Pyrs and Kelsey Jones.

Cunningham said: “There were some tough calls around this selection and the competition for places is what every coach wants. We are excited to get started and cannot want to kick off the tournament.

“We know Ireland will pose a formidable challenge but we finished third in last season’s Six Nations and want to improve on that. As a team, we know we can create opportunities and we just need to finish them off and score more tries.

“The squad have worked really hard and we have prepared really well and we are looking to make a positive start at Cardiff Arms Park on Saturday.

“It is great to have Gwen Crabb back at second row, she has worked really hard to get back and to have a player with all her experience is a real positive for us.

“It’s great to see Kate Williams in the squad and she has really contributed to the squad since she has been here and it’s great to give her an opportunity to win her first cap.

"Overall, we have looked for settled combinations and partnerships and the focus has been very much on selecting a side to face Ireland. We want to back up what we achieved last year but we also feel we should have won three games last season. So we want to build on last year and starting at home is real positive for us. We want to start well and to give our supporters something to cheer, inspire the next generation of players and build some real momentum for the rest of the campaign.”

As for Ireland, Nichola Fryday captains the side from the second row alongside Sam Monaghan. There are Six Nations debuts for Ireland's Meabh Deely, Aoife Dalton and Natasja Behan in the backline.

Both sides are missing key players as a result of them competing for their respective nations' sevens teams.

Ireland are without backs Beibhinn Parsons and Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe, with Eve Higgins and Lucy Mulhall also unavailable due to sevens, while Wales are missing wing Jasmine Joyce and full-back Kayleigh Powell.

Much like Wales were a year ago, Ireland Women head into this tournament as something of an unknown. They did not qualify for last autumn's World Cup, a tournament in which Wales exited at the quarter-finals, and it remains to be seen how much their squad can gel with so little time together. A total of 29 players accepted historic IRFU playing contracts at the end of last year, offered on the condition of playing club rugby in Ireland, while a number of players including captain Nichola Fryday rejected the deals in favour of remaining with their Premier 15s clubs in England, widely seen as the best women's rugby club competition in the world.

The Irish will also be out for revenge after Wales produced a stunning second-half comeback last time out to beat them 27-19 in Dublin, which ended Wales' seven-game losing streak against the Irish. A year earlier, Wales had lost 45-0 to their Celtic cousins, who scored seven tries that day, as they hit rock bottom amid little support from the WRU, with most players then balancing rugby with full-time jobs.

Wales fly-half Elinor Snowsill said of the upcoming task: "Ireland's backline are probably a little bit unknown without their Sevens girls in there. It's something we'll have to be prepared for to react on the day, because they could present different pictures.

"It's really hard to tell [what to expect] because they're in an interesting position where I suppose 10 or 12 of their [15s] players have chosen to take full-time contracts, stay in Ireland, play Irish rugby and the Celtic Cup, and then the rest have chosen to turn down contracts and stay in the Prem. It's difficult to know as a squad how they'll come together. But regardless of their preparation, they are always a very physical team to play against, very intense and very direct."

Wales No. 8 Sioned Harries said in her BBC column: "We know they're going to be a fierce opposition. I think they would have been disappointed with how they lost in Dublin last year, as they felt they were in a good place with their Sevens girls coming back in.

"They'll definitely be targeting us for a win, as we will be targeting them. Both sides will also be out for revenge and both sides will want to right some wrongs. Ireland missed the World Cup because of us winning the play-off in 2017. We are also aware that the last time Ireland visited us in Cardiff they had a significant win, so we want to rewrite that history."

Meanwhile, Ireland captain and Exeter Chiefs forward Nichola Fryday says her side have been "inspired" by Andy Farrell's Grand Slam-winning squad.

"They are inspiring a nation and we have always said that we want to bring that to the women's game," said Fryday. "Them doing well is only a good thing and we want to be able to continue it. There is a nice crossover, we were all training together the other day as the facilities are superb so it can host us all at the same time. You go to the coffee machine and you're just meeting Johnny Sexton for a coffee, everyone gets along well. They have been nothing but supportive and positive towards us."

Ireland finished last year's Six Nations in fourth place after two wins and three defeats, and while expectations for them to win a first championship in eight years are low, Fryday hopes the recent changes off the field in the last year can help Ireland to improve on 2022.

"We are in a good spot at the moment, we had the rollout of the contracts which was hugely positive, our first tour of Japan and the introduction of the Celtic Challenge," said the 27-year-old. "I think these are all things which are adding to the women's game in Ireland. The Celtic Challenge allowed for game time for new girls who are coming up through the development route and I think it is progressing really well."

Wales: 15. Courtney Keight, 14. Lisa Neumann, 13. Hannah Jones (capt), 12. Kerin Lake, 11. Carys Williams-Morris, 10. Elinor Snowsill, 9. Keira Bevan; 1. Gwenllian Pyrs, 2. Kelsey Jones, 3. Sisilia Tuipulotu, 4. Abbie Fleming, 5. Gwen Crabb, 6. Georgia Evans, 7. Alex Callender, 8. Bethan Lewis.

Replacements: 16. Kat Evans, 17. Caryl Thomas, 18. Cerys Hale, 19. Kate Williams, 20. Sioned Harries, 21. Ffion Lewis, 22. Lleucu George, 23. Hannah Bluck.

Ireland: 15. Méabh Deely, 14. Aoife Doyle, 13. Aoife Dalton, 12. Enya Breen, 11. Natasja Behan, 10. Nicole Cronin, 9. Molly Scuffil-McCabe, 1. Sadhbh McGrath, 2. Neve Jones, 3. Linda Djougang, 4. Nichola Fryday (capt), 5. Sam Monaghan, 6. Dorothy Wall, 7. Maeve Óg O’Leary, 8. Brittany Hogan.

Replacements: 16. Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird, 17. Niamh O’Dowd, 18. Christy Haney, 19. Jo Brown, 20. Grace Moore, 21. Hannah O’Connor, 22. Dannah O’Brien, 23. Vicky Irwin.

Wales v Ireland referee

Referee: Amber McLachlan (RA)

Assistants: Doriane Domenjo (FFR) and Maria Latos (GER)

TMO: Ian Tempest (RFU)

  • Wales' opening game against Ireland on Saturday afternoon (2.15pm) has tickets priced at £10 for adults and £5 for children (under-16s) via


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