After a lean period results-wise, new Wales Women’s head coach Ioan Cunningham senses a new mood of positivity in the camp as the countdown to Rugby World Cup 2021 continues with next month’s November Internationals.
Following on from last Sunday’s training match against the world champion Black Ferns, internationals against Japan, South Africa and Canada on consecutive weekends in Cardiff will put Wales through their paces.
“There’s three good challenges for us there with the different styles of play and a different approach from a mindset point of view,” Cunningham said.
“Japan will be technically superb, they will be fast and will want to play at a high tempo with high ball-in-play (time), whereas South Africa might go back to a more of a set-piece game and will try and go through you with a ‘north-south' approach.
“Canada are one of the world’s best teams with some exceptional athletes and a bit of an all-court game. So there are three different challenges for us, which is great for me and the new coaching group to learn so much about the group moving forward.”
For the next year, up to and including Rugby World Cup 2021, Wales will be led by Cunningham and his assistants, Geraint Lewis, Richard Whiffen and World Rugby intern Sophie Spence.
Wales have failed to finish in the top half of the Women’s Six Nations table for the last decade and are on a seven-match losing streak but Cunningham is not worried about what has gone on before.
“At the first meeting, we had with the coaching group and the team I made it clear that everything is about moving forward, everything is about taking control. We cannot do anything about what has happened before,” he said.
“We want positive mindsets and high energy. We are all united, that’s the biggest thing, we are working together towards achieving something special as a group.
“So far, the time we’ve spent together has been really good. All the girls are working really hard and have adjusted quickly to some new structures and plays.”
Cunningham does, however, get the occasional reminder of the past – from good friend, and former Wales women’s international, Clare Flowers.
“Clare has 70-odd caps for Wales and is very proud of the fact that they finished second in the Six Nations when she played (three times in 2006, 2008 and 2009),” said the former Scarlets forwards coach.
“She is a good friend of mine and she made it clear to me, you’ve got to show us what you can do. It was good banter but it made me realise what it means to the Welsh women’s players and public.
“Hopefully the small adjustments we have made as coaches will help us perform better and, ultimately, help us win games. We are confident if we get our system and structures right we can really challenge teams.”
In Jasmine Joyce, Wales possess one of the best players in the world. And while Cunningham admitted that the Black Ferns run-out had given him “a few selection headaches”, the Bristol winger/fullback is one player whose place in the team is guaranteed.
“The grand plan is to get the ball to Jas as much as possible if I am being honest,” he said.
“She is an outstanding attacking threat, one of the world’s best, and thankfully she is Welsh and with us.
“I am sure a lot of teams will be worried about her being on the team sheet in the weeks and months to come because of the threat she poses. She has great acceleration and footwork and she is tough and durable as well.
“It’s about us understanding how we can get her on the ball as much as possible in the 15s game, getting her to come off the wing and close to rucks working off the nine.
“I spoke to her last week and said I want us to give you 15 touches of the ball a game. If she can get that, she will create massive opportunities for us.”