Winless Wales to build on harsh WXV1 lessons

Wales arrived in New Zealand three weeks ago full of confidence off the back of another successful Six Nations campaign.

They had upped their professional ranks to 32 players over the summer and welcomed back Jasmine Joyce from the sevens scene.

Things appeared to look good and they had every right to target two wins in their debut WXV1 tournament – assumingly against Canada and Australia – with the other game against world champions New Zealand.

But what unfolded was a sobering reminder of the gap that still exists between Wales and the world’s top teams as they continue to develop into a professional outfit.

They conceded 137 points over three games – albeit with 70 of those coming against the Black Ferns.

Wales showed glimpses of their potential – as they have done since contracts came in almost two years ago – but they are yet to find that elusive 80-minute performance which would claim a big scalp.

Discipline and taking chances were once again key themes in defeat.

Canada, a team Wales played in a friendly last summer, were first up in Wellington. Wales went toe-to-toe with last year’s World Cup semi-finalists for 40 minutes before losing the physical battle in the second half which left the final score an unflattering 42-22.

Then followed the demolition in Dunedin, where Wales conceded a record 70 points to seven against New Zealand who ran in tries for fun, with Ruby Tui alone scoring four inside the first half. It was a harsh lesson on how to play expansive rugby.

Wales then set their sites on Australia, a team similarly ranked to them and a team they only just lost out to in last year’s World Cup. It was another impressive first-half display and they should have put the game to bed when Australia had a player red-carded and another sent to the bin, but it was Wales who leaked the tries in a 25-19 defeat.

It was a disappointing end to a campaign which promised so much but ended with Wales finishing bottom of the table. They will get another shot at it again next year with no demotion from tier one for the first two years, unlike WXV2 and WXV3.

“Naturally it’s disappointing having three losses, but for me we’re going to take far more learnings from being in this competition than possibly winning by 40 or 50 points in another competition,” said Wales head coach Ioan Cunningham.

“This is where we need to be, they are harsh lessons at the moment but it’s the right direction for the next World Cup [in 2025].

“It’s been a challenge but we’ve stayed strong as a group and we’ll be better for it.”

When asked if he was still the man to lead Wales, Cunningham added: “There’s no question. I love this team, I love working with everyone who’s a part of this team and there’s still a lot for me to achieve with this team.”

Wales captain Hannah Jones said they were “obviously gutted with the result”.

“We talked about being relentless and that definitely showed towards the end. A few decisions didn’t go our way, but when we have opportunities we have got to take them at this level.

“We want to be in this tournament, we don’t want to be in tier two where we could be smashing teams, so we will take our learnings from this and look forward to the next tournament.”

Wales full-back Jasmine Joyce reiterated what her team mates had said since they arrived in New Zealand.

“I think it really does prove that we deserve to be in this WXV1,” she said.

“We’ve given everything to that performance and we left our bodies on the line there. Some decisions didn’t go our way and they [Australia] were a very good side.

“We gave absolutely everything and it is really disappointing to come off with a loss.”

The squad will have a couple of days to pick themselves up before making the long journey back to Wales, where they will disperse and head back to their clubs for the domestic season – most being in the English Premiership.

For six of the players their club at Worcester Warriors no longer exists after its sponsor pulled out, so it remains to be seen what their future holds.

Wales signed off 2023 with a loss, but they cannot be too disappointed in a year where they secured three Six Nations wins and an all-time highest world ranking of sixth.

Roll on 2024.