The Welsh Rugby Union has announced the award of twelve contracts for its women’s squad.
They are: Alisha Butchers, Carys Phillips, Donna Rose, Elinor Snowsill, Ffion Lewis, Gwenillian Pyrs, Hannah Jones, Jasmine Joyce, Keira Bevan, Lisa Neumann, Natalia John and Siwan Lillicrap.
Since the original plan was to offer only ten, this generosity may show how difficult the choices were and how determined the WRU is to right past wrongs.
There’s an even split between forwards and backs; it’s a moot point whether this balance is sensible, but the decision-makers knew time is not on their side.
A glance at Welsh performances over recent years points to a failure of the pack to hold its own, to impose itself on an obdurate opposition and allow the backs to show their paces. While there are plenty of hard-working forwards, led by the splendid Siwan Lillicrap, there has been a lack of overall power.
The least experienced member of the dozen is Donna Rose (6 caps), who has the advantage of playing for Saracens. The other favoured prop is Gwenillian Pyrs, who has been missing from action for a while, but her presence on the list shows the regard she is held in. The pair are favoured above rivals with much greater international experience.
Jaz Joyce’s selection was a given, but throws light on the confusion surrounding the 15s/7s split. She would be a first choice for any GB 7s squad, but will be now available for every test match Wales play – we must assume. What happens when there’s a clash of fixtures?
As with other nations in the throes of offering new contracts, a central question is how quickly they can take their effect. For teams in the 6 Nations there is a gap of only 2½ months till the first round. At least Wales’ place in the World Cup is ensured. Welsh fans must hope that the remaining retainer contracts are in place very soon.
Does a sliding scale of contracts affect team unity? That is a question still to be resolved. When Player A on a lower rate makes a tackle missed by Player B on the top whack, could that rouse a certain peevishness? Let’s hope not. But it helps to explain Ioan Cunningham referring to the Welsh selections as ‘fairly clinical and even ruthless’.
Rugby followers will be fascinated to see how quickly new contracts can advance a team’s performance. Wales are joined by New Zealand and, we hope, Ireland in putting their players on a new footing. At the last World Cup there was only one nation on full-time contracts, England, and they failed to win the trophy. Next November full pro-contracts will be less of a rarity.