Wales have been written off as World Cup no-hopers by the bookies ahead of their tournament opener against New Zealand on Tuesday.
Bookmakers Betway have Wales as rank outsiders at 200-1 to win the tournament, with New Zealand at 13-8 and current world champions England at 4-3 on favourites.
After a strong showing from their cricket and football counterparts in recent weeks, the Red Roses will be looking to clinch their third World Cup, having previously taken the title in 1994 and 2014.
But Wales – captained by Carys Phillips, daughter of head coach Rowland Phillips – have an early chance to disprove those predictions as they start their tournament against the Black Ferns before further pool matches against Canada and Hong Kong.
The Wales back three is made up of fullback Dyddgu Hywel and wings Jasmine Joyce and Elen Evans. Twenty-year-old Hannah Jones – one of the standout Wales Sevens players this season – starts in the midfield alongside outside centre Gemma Rowland. Scrum-half Keira Bevan partners fly-half Elinor Snowsill.
Hooker Phillips is joined in the front row by loosehead Caryl Thomas and tighthead Amy Evans, with Rebecca Rowe and Mel Clay named in the second row. They are bolstered by blindside Alisha Butchers, openside Rachel Taylor and number eight Sioned Harries.
There is a place on the bench for uncapped 17-year-old back rower Lleucu George, whilst hooker Kelsey Jones, 18, could also be in line to make her Wales debut.
Coach Phillips said: “We’ve set out a path to take women’s rugby in Wales to new heights, and while that goes well beyond New Zealand tomorrow, the Black Ferns are an excellent team to test yourself against.
“They’re one of the perennial favourites, and for good reason, but we’ll be aiming to impose our game on them with the mindset of an 80-minute performance.”
Best finish: Fourth (1994)
Worst finish: 11th (1998)
Women’s Rugby World Cup record: Played 24 / Won 9 / Lost 14 / Drawn 1
Women’s Rugby World Cup points scored: 485
Most capped player in squad: Elen Evans, 68 caps
Did you know…? On the day the Welsh squad was announced, its youngest member Lleucu George won a bronze medal in rugby sevens at the Commonwealth Youth Games in the Bahamas.
Coach: Rowland Phillips
Captain: Carys Phillips
One to watch: Keira Bevan
The scrum-half had barely been playing the game six months when the last World Cup took place in 2014, but before that year had ended she’d already played for Wales in sevens. Her test debut swiftly followed, two months shy of her 18th birthday, against England in February 2015 in Wales’ historic 13-0 victory and before the Six Nations had finished she’d a first start under her belt agaisnt the Italians. The 20-year-old has made the scrum-half spot her own over the last couple of years with her energetic displays in Welsh team building for the future and has 14 caps to her name.
Best finish: Champions (1998, 2002, 2006, 2010)
Worst finish: Fifth (2014)
Women’s Rugby World Cup record: Played 27 / Won 25 / Lost 2
Women’s Rugby World Cup points scored: 1,227
Most capped player in squad: Fiao’o Faamausili, 47
Did you know…? The Black Ferns won 20 Women’s Rugby World Cup matches in a row after losing to 7-0 to USA in the 1991 semi-finals … until Ireland shocked them with a 17-14 win in the pool stages in 2014.
Coach: Glenn Moore
Captain: Fiao’o Faamausili
One to watch: Kendra Cocksedge (pictured)
Don’t be fooled by her diminutive stature as the Black Ferns’ number nine is one of the best players in the world, blessed with the vision to spot a gap in the defence and the quick feet to dart through it and race away to score herself or put a team-mate away. Named the World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year in 2015, the 29-year-old has been at her sniping best this year, scoring four tries in the International Women’s Rugby Series in June, including a brace against Pool A rivals Canada in a 28-16 win. The most experienced member of the New Zealand backline, her half-back partnership with Kelly Brazier will be key to unleash the dangerous outside backs as the Black Ferns bit to win a fifth title.
Betway – Rugby Union – Women’s World Cup 2017