The women's regional championship in Wales is coming to a close - with the country'stop players battling it out in just one final round of games before hoping to be chosen to represent their country in the 6 Nations next year. We spoke to Sophie Bennett, WRU Women's Performance Manager, about getting Wales back on track and ready for their next major competition.
Tell us about the regional competition being run in Wales?
"The regional competition in Wales is to bridge the gap between club and international rugby. The players represent their regions either Dragons, Blues, Ospreys or Scarlets and this is based on where they live, other than the current Internationals who are placed so that it is a fair and competitive programme. Most of the players however go back as much as possible to where they were born so they have an affinity with the region.
Last season we played the competition between the end of the Six Nations and start of the WC this season it is being played out now so that it runs before Six Nations, giving players a good level of rugby and an opportunity for non internationals to stake claim for selection."
Has there been a review of women's rugby in the WRU since the World Cup?
"Yes we have had a look at all we do and how we do it and also how we can improve moving forward."
Is there disappointment about how Wales fared?
"I think there is always going to be a bit of disappointment on paper as 9th does not sound great however, we were far more competitive than the results suggested. Obviously we were in an incredibly tough pool with South Africa, Australia and New Zealand although not wanting to use this as an excuse, but their quality showed later on with Australia finishing 3rd and New Zealand going on to win the competition.
Jason (Lewis, ex-head coach) feels that with a bit of luck things could have been differentHe saidadmittedly NZ were too strong for us, winning 41-8, but we held our own against Australia and SA. We went down 26-12 to the Aussies but I am sure with a bit more luck we could have come away with the result. The same against SA where we narrowly lost 15-10 so I am just glad we were able to readdress the balance with a 29-17 win against them in the play offs."
Another huge positive was that fighting for the shirt alongside experienced players such as Mellissa Berry and Jamie Kift were a new generation of stars fresh from the U20s such as Sioned Harries, Lowri Harries and Mared Evans. These players really stepped up during the tournament and have an exciting future ahead. Coupled with the success of the Junior Regional programme and some exciting players coming through from the U18s who have already been granted dispensation to play within the Senior competition.
What are the key aims for women's rugby there now?
"Our key aims are to increase participation at the development level and a review is taking place of the best way for Wales that we can do this all of our schools and club rugby are being looked at. We are also looking to bring a VIIs programme back to our game and how we can use VIIs successfully as a Development tool and stand alone game with our playing numbers is a challenge for me."
What will you be doing to attract more players to the sport and also get the top players to the sport?
"We are currently working on the womens strategy moving forward which will see some changes to how womens rugby has traditionally worked in Wales. This is a very exciting time as we are at the start of a four year cycle after a very successfully promoted Womens World Cup. We are looking at our VIIs programme as a way to draw in players and work with Touch Rugby as well as the crossover for these 2 sports in Wales could be huge."