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Can Wales avoid a second wooden spoon in Six Nations 2024?

Gwen Hopkins marked her senior Wales debut with a try. Credit: WRU

Welsh rugby returns to the capital this weekend with the Guinness Women’s Six Nations at Cardiff Arms Park.

The team return to Wales amidst a tough 36-5 loss to Ireland at the weekend.

Last year’s 31-5 victory for Wales over Ireland at the Arms Park seemed like a distant memory as the tables turned in this encounter. However, Gwen Hopkins marked her senior Wales debut with a try, offering a glimmer of positivity for head coach Ioan Cunningham.

Despite starting with a strong advantage, Wales found themselves outmatched by Ireland’s formidable pack, notably led by blindside flanker Aoife Wafer, whose exceptional performance included driving through three players for Ireland’s first try. By the time she exited the match in the final minutes, Wafer had tallied 13 carries and an impressive 132 meters gained.

Wales sought a swift response in the second half but instead conceded a bonus-point try early on due to defensive lapses. Despite the setback, they continued to fight, with Hopkins’s try offering a brief respite. However, a disallowed try by Cox further dampened Welsh hopes.

Sadly, the defeat at Virgin Media Park makes it a third loss in a row for Wales in this campaign, and so begins the tight rope Wales hope to avoid a second wooden spoon for the sport.

That said, there is a lot to celebrate and we’ve seen Welsh women’s rugby gain in popularity in recent years.

The Welsh women’s rugby team has had some success in international competitions, such as the Guinness Women’s Six Nations Championship and the Rugby World Cup. Their achievements have helped to increase the visibility and popularity of the sport within Wales.

There has been a significant increase in the number of women and girls participating in rugby across Wales. This growth in grassroots participation has helped to build a strong foundation for the sport and has contributed to its popularity. The number of girls actively involved in rugby across 95 schools and colleges, each equipped with dedicated hub officers, has skyrocketed from under 200 to nearly 10,000 within a few short years.

Beyond the school environment, girls-exclusive cluster centers have seen consistent growth and vitality.

The landscape of opportunities for girls’ participation continues to expand, with 32 clusters established across Wales. Moreover, age categories now range from under 7 to under 18, reflecting the escalating demand from girls across communities throughout Wales.

Although there is a long way to go to catch up with the men’s team, there is increasing funding for clubs, development programs, and coaching staff, which is helping to nurture talent and to develop the sport. In September last year, the WRU announced further investment in the backroom team.

Rugby has a strong tradition of community engagement in Wales, and this extends to women’s rugby as well. Clubs and teams often play a central role in their local communities, providing opportunities for women and girls to get involved in the sport and fostering a sense of belonging and camaraderie.

There has been a shift in attitudes towards women’s sports in general, with greater recognition of the skill, athleticism, and competitiveness of female athletes. This increased visibility and respect for women’s rugby have helped to attract more fans and supporters to the sport.

Overall, a combination of success on the field, growing participation, investment, community engagement, and changing attitudes has contributed to the popularity of Welsh women’s rugby.

Wales captain Hannah Jone. Credit: WRU

For Hannah Jones, the Wales team captain, it’s a subject that is close to her heart and is proud to be part of history in the making. Although Hannah had hoped to beat England this year, and despite the result last month, there is still an opportunity to turn the tables and beat France and Italy on Welsh soil.

Whatever the result, the one thing you can be sure of is players like Hannah will be an inspiration to the next generation of women in sport.

Speaking ahead of this year’s Guinness Women’s Six Nations, the Wales captain said:

“I’m so happy I get to be a role model to young girls, I didn’t have anyone to look up to when I was younger – being on TV is a huge thing for us! That’s why it’s so important that sponsors such as Guinness come on board to give women’s rugby the visibility it needs and deserves.”

Stephen O’Kelly, Diageo’s Global Brand Director for Guinness, added:

“We are fully committed to the game of rugby and the values it supports in creating an inclusive game for everyone. That’s why we are proud that Guinness will become the Title Partner of the Women’s Six Nations in 2024, alongside the extension of its Title Partnership of the Men’s Championship. 

This new partnership will help support the skill and talent of the women’s competition to surge forward towards a level playing field between the men’s and women’s game. It is our goal to Never Settle until rugby is a place where everyone belongs, where we hold nothing back, and where we unite together in sport and life. 

This is a new era for Guinness Rugby, and we can’t wait for it to kick off. Let’s raise a Guinness to the future of these Championships, which are set to be as exciting for the fans as they will be for us.”

With only two games left, can Wales avoid a second wooden spoon?

  • Wales vs France 21st April 2024- Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff Wales
  • Wales vs Italy 27th April 2024- Principality Stadium, Cardiff

Tickets are available to purchase on the WRU website wru.wales, pricing from £5 (u17s) and adults £10.