The ex-England captain playing for Wales in the 2024 Women’s Six Nations

Wales play Scotland in their tournament opener bolstered by a new arrival at full-back

JENNY Hesketh grew up playing for England in football and rugby – and even captained the Red Roses at U20 level – but she will play for Wales against Scotland this weekend.

Hesketh, 21, qualifies to make the switch thanks to her mother, who’s from Barry. She did it because of the possibility of a professional contact being offered to her by the Welsh Rugby Union this summer.

“It all happened quite quickly but it was obviously very exciting,” said Hesketh.

Wales Head Coach Ioan Cunningham approached Hesketh after her impressive performances for the Bristol Bears this season and invited her to join the Welsh training camp last month. 

Hesketh is keen to make an impact on her debut at Cardiff Arms Park on Saturday.

“The emotion is going to hit me after the game, right now I’m focusing on the rugby,” she said.

“After, when I see my mum and my family, it’s going to be amazing.”

Focusing on the rugby is important because this Scottish side is flying high. The Scots have won their last six games in their longest unbeaten run since 2001.

Three of those wins – over South Africa, Japan and the USA – also saw them take home the inaugural WXV2 title in October 2023.

However, before this winning run began, they lost 34-22 to the Welsh in this fixture last year.

“Test matches against Scotland have traditionally been close and tight affairs and we are expecting the same on Saturday,” said Cunningham.

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This year, there is even more on the line. Both Scotland and Wales believe they can make third place in this year’s competition, meaning automatic qualification for the World Cup in England next year.

With Ireland recording no wins, and Italy recording just one last year, Scotland and Wales will both believe that third place could be theirs.

Cunningham is hoping that the home advantage will be enough to tip the scales in Wales’ favour, saying: “The support of the Welsh public proved key when we were at Cardiff Arms Park last season.”

What has changed since then, is that both teams are further down road of professional development.

The impact of professional contracts

In 2022, the WRU gave 12 women professional contracts and have now scaled up to 32.

That same year, the Scottish Rugby Union awarded 28 female players professional contracts for the first time.

Players and coaches herald the professional contracts as something which will continue to improve the game as players are given the ability to focus on rugby.

Captains Hannah Jones (Wales) and Rachel Malcolm (Scotland) have both talked up the importance of good quality training in the lead up to this game.

“If you want to be the best you’ve got to play against the best,” said Jones, referring to their warm-up games against the Exeter Chiefs and other Premiership sides.

Malcolm credited the addition of professional contracts, as a key reason for improved quality in training and preparation.

“If I look at it on a personal level, my body is now able to withstand a session at match intensity,” she said.

Perhaps Jenny Hesketh’s switch from England to Wales – because of the higher likelihood of a professional contract – is the greatest illustration yet of their importance in the further development of Women’s Rugby.

  • Wales V Scotland will be played at Cardiff Arms Park at 4.45pm on Saturday, March 23, and shown live on BBC 2