Wales women: More players turn professional as coach Ioan Cunningham commits future

Wales women in training
Wales are back in full-time training with the Rugby World Cup just three months away

Wales women have added more professional players to their ranks while head coach Ioan Cunningham has committed his future until 2025.

The Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) has now contracted 31 players, 29 full-time and two part-time.

Additional players are also training with the squad full-time with support from their employers, including experienced campaigner Sioned Harries.

Short-term deals are also on offer during the Rugby World Cup.

The delayed tournament gets under way in October, with Wales drawn in Pool A along with hosts New Zealand, Australia and Scotland.

Cunningham's side will go into the tournament on the back of their best Six Nations campaign since 2009, after finishing third in this year's championship.

The latest round of contracts sees 11 of the players previously on retainer deals upgrade to being fully professional until the end of December.

Gloucester Hartpury prop Cerys Hale now finds herself in the position of being a full-time rugby professional.

"It's been a whirlwind of a six months, I was over the moon to be offered a part-time contract at the start of the year and now to have the opportunity to be full time is a dream come true," she said.

"I'm really excited about what's to come... it's something over the last few years I thought wouldn't happen during my career, I'd hoped it for the next generation but maybe not for me, so for it to come in now and to have this opportunity, I'm over the moon.

"That's going to be huge, us all being together and with the graft that we're putting into pre-season together now."

Hales' fellow club front row Kelsey Jones was equally delighted to get a contract after injury problems, with the hooker saying: "I'm still pinching myself... being able to do what you love and call it a job.

"Before the Six Nations I only played one game for Gloucester and that was really my opportunity to go hell for leather and just do whatever I could to prove I want to be on the world stage, I want to be playing for my country.

"That was what it was all about... but lucky enough to be involved in the Six Nations, come off the bench and make a couple of finishes and then get my start against Italy, then leading into a full-time contract it's just been step to step."

In addition to Kelsey Jones, the other new full-time players are flanker Alex Callender, who impressed during the Six Nations, props Cara Hope and Caryl Thomas, uncapped lock Liliana Podpadec and centre Megan Webb.

Fly-half Robyn Wilkins has taken up a retainer contract.

WRU performance director Nigel Walker said it is an "exciting time for professional women's rugby in Wales".

He added: "The initial investment of contracts made an immediate difference to the standards and results of the side in the TikTok Women's Six Nations and this further investment in players and staff will help to give Wales the best chance of performing with distinction at the forthcoming Rugby World Cup."

Ioan Cunningham
Ioan Cunningham was appointed Wales women head coach in September 2021

Cunningham commits

Wales have also been boosted by news that Cunningham has signed a long-term contract which will keep him at the helm until - and including - the 2025 Rugby World Cup.

There had been reports the former Scarlets coach would depart after this year's World Cup to link back up with Wales Under-20s, but he said he was "delighted to stay on".

"I love working with the players and staff every day and look forward to seeing how far we can go over the next few years, not just with this squad but with the next crop of players coming through too," Cunningham added.

Cunningham also welcomes some fresh faces to his backroom staff.

Ospreys fly-half Stephen Myler will provide expertise in kicking - an area of Wales' game which came up short in the Six Nations - while Ben Flower will support the team's work in the contact area.

Louise Jones has been appointed performance psychologist, while Cara Jones joins the programme as assistant physiotherapist.

The players returned for pre-season training this week and will prepare for the World Cup with a training camp and Test against Canada in Halifax before taking on England.

"The aim over the next few months is to be as fit as possible - both physically and mentally," added Cunningham.

"We made a good deal of progress in the Six Nations, but we felt we probably had more to give especially in the final game.

"This next two months gives us the opportunity to go hard and make strides as a full group.

"The change means we can now train as a squad on a full-time, daily basis while allowing players to rest and recover overnight and come in fresh rather than having to balance a job alongside training."

Full-time players: Keira Bevan, Alisha Butchers, Alex Callender*, Gwen Crabb*, Georgia Evans*, Kat Evans*, Lleucu George*, Cerys Hale*, Cara Hope*, Natalia John, Hannah Jones, Kelsey Jones*, Jasmine Joyce, Kerin Lake*, Bethan Lewis*, Caitlin Lewis*, Ffion Lewis, Siwan Lillicrap, Lisa Neumann, Carys Phillips, Liliana Podpadec*, Kayleigh Powell*, Gwenllian Pyrs, Donna Rose, Elinor Snowsill, Niamh Terry*, Caryl Thomas*, Sisilia Tuipulotu*, Meg Webb*

Part-time players: Abbie Fleming, Robyn Wilkins*.

*Newly awarded contracts, either full-time or retainer.

The other players in the full-time pre-season training programme include: Sioned Harries, Eloise Hayward, Emma Hennessy, Manon Johnes, Lowri Norkett, Gemma Rowland, Jenni Scoble, Scarlett Thomas-Thompson and Carys Williams.

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