Jasmine Joyce believes Wales Women are closing the gap on the major forces in the Six Nations.
They may not be striding quite as rapidly as the Great Britain Olympic wing does when she starts to fly, but the Scarlets player reckons Rowland Phillips’ side have started to reel in the opposition.
Wales finished fourth in their Six Nations campaign – not much to shout from the rooftops at first glance compared the men’s Grand Slam masterclass, but it’s the upward trend that is worth noting.
They finished with back-to-back victories over Scotland and Ireland, which followed their gritty away draw in Italy. They were unbeaten in three of their last four games and although they were over-powered by both England and France, Joyce insists: “We couldn’t ask for much more than that.
“England and France are a step above the other nations, but we want to keep building on this moving forwards.
“To get our second win of the campaign is massive for us and we’ve ended up finishing fourth which is a big step up from last year.”
Like Warren Gatland’s side, Phillips’ team is built first on defensive resilience. They combine disciplined organisation, with impressive physical commitment and some sharp skills and Ireland, in particular, found them too tough to crack.
They absorbed everything Ireland could throw at them in that final match at Cardiff Arms Park and then turned the tables to score four tries – including one that underlined the electrifying pace of Joyce.
It was not quite at the level of her solo disallowed effort against the Italians – still worth finding on YouTube as it would have been one of the great tries in all Six Nations history had it stood – but too sharp for the wilting Irish.
After conceding to an early Beibhinn Parsons try, Wales shut Ireland out for the rest of the game and managed to remain unscathed as Siwan Lillicrap was sent to the sinbin for a first-half high tackle.
Ireland had the lion’s share of the territory, with 69 per cent played in the Wales half.
But Alisha Butchers and Mel Clay racked up 33 successful tackles each during the match and, in total, Wales made more than double the amount of tackles (296) than Ireland (141) managed all game.
Joyce carried the ball 15 times for her team, racking up 191 metres with the ball in hand – more than any other player.
“It was literally a great team performance. We are going to be buzzing for a long time after that,” said Joyce.
“It’s the best we’ve played in a very long time both as a squad and in terms of individual performances. I think we can enjoy ourselves after that one – it all clicked.
“We have been getting better and better. Against Italy we managed to get a draw, but I think in this campaign they have shown they are something most teams don’t think they are. Italy are on the up, which we saw with their win over France on Sunday, and for us to get wins over Scotland and now Ireland is massive for us.
“It’s great to give us some momentum going into next year’s Six Nations and then the World Cup in 2020.”