Credit - WRU

How will Wales get on in the 2023 TikTok Six Nations?

Ioan Cunningham’s team are looking to build on a relatively successful 2022 campaign, which saw them finish third

WALES Women’s team have been boosted by the news that 25 of their players have been awarded full-time professional contracts for 2023, as they prepare for the TikTok Six Nations.

Previously, just 12 of the 35-strong squad were on professional contracts, worth around £19,000, while another 15 players were given retainer contracts – effectively a semi-professional deal, worth around £7,500 a year.

Those deals began in the autumn of 2021, marking the first-time women’s rugby players had been paid in Wales. Prior to the introduction of these contracts, players were forced to balance working full-time and playing international rugby, something that proved to be unsustainable – as shown by results.

Wales finished bottom of the Six Nations in 2018, 2020 & 2021, prompting the Welsh Rugby Union to follow more successful nations like France and England in creating a professional set-up to allow the players to focus on rugby.

Despite only being 18-months into the process, Wales’ move to professionalism has begun to bear fruit, with the team finishing 3rd in last season’s tournament, their best finish since 2009.

Wales also reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup last autumn in New Zealand, where they were defeated 55-3 by the host nation in the last eight.

Wales, led by Ioan Cunningham, have benefited from a stable coaching set-up, which hasn’t always been the case in recent seasons. Rowland Phillips, Chris Horsman and Warren Abrahams all came and went in recent years, and it appeared the job was becoming a poisoned chalice.

However, Cunningham who took over in September 2021, initially as interim coach, has recently signed a long-term deal that will keep him with the team until the 2025 World Cup. This long-term thinking will allow Wales to continue to develop players and to develop a game-plan that will help to compete with the world’s best teams.

Cunningham has named his 36-player squad for the upcoming Six Nations, with six uncapped players making the squad. Kate Williams, Catherine Richards, Abbey Constable, Charlie Mundy, Bryonie King and Jenna De Vera are all in line to earn their first caps during the campaign.

Wales will kick-off their campaign with a home game against Ireland at Cardiff Arms Park. The home side will be looking to complete back-to-back wins against the visitors after recording a historic, upset win in Dublin last March.

With more players on full-time contracts and the team being another year into Cunningham’s reign as head coach, Wales will be looking to improve on last season’s campaign which saw them pick-up two wins.

The campaign began brightly with wins over Ireland and Scotland but heavy defeats to Six Nations powerhouses England and France derailed the campaign. It was followed up by a disappointing home loss to Italy but a third-place finish proved a remarkable turnaround for a team who had not won a Six Nations game since 2019.

The hope is that as time progresses and more young players make their way through the professional set-up, that the quality of player will improve leading to the team improving.

The Welsh Rugby Union has begun to develop its player pathway recently. A new tournament called the Celtic Challenge, which began last month, saw development teams from Wales, Scotland and Ireland playing each other in a round-robin in an attempt to get young players playing a higher standard of rugby.

A successful 2025 Rugby World Cup, held just over the bridge in England, is the end goal for this group of players and head coach Cunningham. This year’s Six Nations is the first step on the ladder as a new-look Wales try to make themselves a force on the world stage after a difficult decade.

The Cardiffian’s prediction: 3rd place. Wales are still years behind England and France’s professional set-ups who will inevitably take first and second place. Finishing third for a second consecutive year and picking up three wins along the way will be a successful campaign.