By Paul Jones
The Welsh Rugby Union hope to stop the flow of top women players to England by creating two super clubs in Wales.
In recent weeks, what was once a trickle of players over the border has become a pipeline with Jasmine Joyce – Wales’ most recognisable star – returning from the Sevens circuit to join Bristol Bears.
Back row forward Alisha Butchers also signed for Bristol where she and Joyce will play alongside Test captain and No.8 Siwan Lillicrap, flanker Manon Johnes, prop Caryl Thomas, scrum-half Keira Bevan, fly-half Elinor Snowsill and full-back Lauren Smyth.
Prop Cerys Hale plays for Gloucester-Hartpury along with Bethan Lewis, Kelsey Jones, Shona Powell-Hughes, Lleucu George, Gwen Crabb and Sian Williams.
Hooker Carys Phillips and back row forwards Sioned Harries and Alex Callender play for Worcester while wing Lisa Neumann is on Sale Sharks’ books.
But while the women’s Premier 15 is a strong league in England, with Test players at most clubs, the equivalent Premier League in Wales is not viewed as an adequate stepping stone to the international game.
Last season, there was a women’s Regional Championship which featured the Ospreys, Scarlets, Cardiff Blues and RGC, but now the WRU plans to work more closely with the English clubs to prepare Welsh players for Test rugby.
Longer term, however, the plan is to develop two “super clubs” who would presumably play in a future British women’s league.
WRU women and girls’ general manager Charlotte Wathan said: “In the short term, the intention is that our performance players will train and play for Premier 15s clubs and longer term we aim to establish two high performance centres in Wales, hopefully leading to the development of two competitive ‘super clubs’.
“We know we have talented players in Wales and we believe these measures will help to further harness that talent and create an environment which increases competition for places in the programme.”
The Union has also begun a search for a new head coach who will oversee its XVs and sevens women’s squads as part of a major restructuring to “close the gap” on other nations in the female game.
The plan is also to add an analyst for its senior female set-up and a physical performance lead to develop all levels of women’s rugby in Wales, while additional coaches are expected to be appointed to the women’s programme later this year.
The major reshuffle comes just 14 months away from the World Cup in New Zealand in September 2021, which Wales have already secured qualification for.
Former head coach Rowland Phillips left his role officially in March 2020 in unexplained circumstances after missing all of Wales’ 2019 autumn matches and this year’s Six Nations.
Phillips was replaced by Chris Horsman, Geraint Lewis and Gareth Wyatt.
Wales lost four games, including a 66-7 defeat by England, before the Scotland match was postponed due to Covid-19.
WRU performance director Ryan Jones said: “We are keen to talk to professional coaches with the ability to be world-leading within women’s rugby.
“This is an exciting period for the women’s game globally with the Rugby World Cup and Commonwealth Games around the corner and the group of players and coaches we assemble over the coming months will have the opportunity to build something special within a clear set of performance, personal and team goals, both within the international 15-a-side and 7s game.”