Jasmine Joyce and Hannah Jones have been named in the Wales Women starting line-up for Sunday’s Women’s Six Nations Championship opener against Italy at Cardiff Arms Park (1pm).
The experienced pair missed the side’s five-match autumn series after taking up an opportunity to play for Adelaide University in the Australian national sevens league. Alisha Butchers, who also played for the Adelaide ‘Romas’ has been named on a bench that also includes uncapped Ospreys prop Ruth Lewis.
There are first Six Nations starts for full-back Kayleigh Powell, who made her Wales debut in the November win over Ireland, and the front row forwards Gwenllian Pyrs and Kelsey Jones while Molly Kelly, Georgia Evans and Paige Randall are set to make their Six Nations debut if they come off the bench after earning their first caps in the autumn.
Coach Chris Horsman says he is pleased with the level of competition in the squad.
“There was debate and competition around every position in the selection meeting, which is exactly what we want.,” said the 14-times capped former Wales prop.
“We set out to develop strength in depth during the autumn and those games really gave us a chance to look at the group with the 2021 Rugby World Cup in mind. There was a case for every player to be involved in some way but we feel this matchday squad is the best placed to make the most of the opportunity this weekend. As in the autumn, we want to go out and perform in every game, improving all the time.”
Italy finished in second place in last season’s competition, beating France comfortably on the way.
“Italy has always been a key match for us and this Sunday will be no different,” added Horsman. “It will be a tough game with no hiding place. We have asked a lot of the players, increasing the intensity of training and they’ve met the challenge head on. The aim of that is not only to perform under pressure during the Six Nations but also, longer term, to close the gap on teams above us in the world rankings.
“We are concentrating on ourselves and this week, not looking beyond the challenge of Italy on Sunday.”
Wales Women team v Italy (Sunday 2 February, 1pm, Cardiff Arms Park):
Kayleigh Powell; Jasmine Joyce, Hannah Jones, Kerin Lake, Lisa Neumann; Robyn Wilkins, Keira Bevan; Gwenllian Pyrs, Kelsey Jones, Cerys Hale, Natalia John, Gwen Crabb, Alex Callender, Bethan Lewis, Siwan Lillicrap (capt)
Replacements: Molly Kelly, Cara Hope, Ruth Lewis, Georgia Evans, Alisha Butchers, Manon Johnes, Ffion Lewis, Paige Randall