Wales face Ireland in the women’s Six Nations this weekend with much to prove after their opening round heavy defeat against France. It was a result that didn’t really need much explaining, unlike so much else around the squad, according to Fraser Watson.
Less than three weeks ago, one of Wales Women’s most high profile performers was crashing over for a hat-trick of tries in a thrilling Allianz Premier 15s encounter.
The exploits of the 58-cap international in question, Sioned Harries, weren’t enough to help Worcester Warriors edge a thrilling contest with Gloucester-Hartbury – but they did reiterate her long proven credentials at the top level of the women’s game.
She’s played since, co-captaining the side in a bonus point win over Bristol Bears.
She was then surplus to requirements as Wales Women opened their Six Nations campaign with a 53-0 defeat in France last Saturday.
At this point, you may have a hunch that the above sequence doesn’t seamlessly add up.
But if further perceptive powers leave you inclined to think a viable explanation is about to follow – then forgive my assumption that Welsh Rugby Union transparency isn’t high on your list of specialist subjects.
Of course, Harries starting at No.8 in Vannes wouldn’t have instigated a memorable one-off win. It wouldn’t even have substantially reduced the losing margin.
You’d need a mass injection of non-existent funding, and a structural overhaul that didn’t leave an essentially amateur side exposed against an entirely semi-professional one, for those scenarios to become attainable.
But the continued absence of Harries, first dropped for the 2020 Six Nations amid the nonsensical explanation the squad was building for the World Cup, represents something deeper than a questionable omission.
It’s a stark reflection of the hypocrisy with which the WRU publicly treats the women’s game.
The predictable drum of positivity is banged, of course. As are the instructions.
As Welsh rugby followers we should support them; watch games; promote equality; send our daughters to the hub groups; and marvel at their team announcements being given social media exposure.
Above all, we must laud the notion that exposure and publicity for females involved in the game in Wales is at all-time high.
All sound intentions and ambitions most people can get on board with in 2021.
If issues arise however, don’t expect them to be addressed. Don’t ask questions. Don’t show interest. Don’t presumptuously imply that the women’s game bears enough relevance for important developments to be handled with lucidity or respect.
Somehere high up within the WRU, it must have been decided that the women’s game can avoid scrutiny by everyone involved just keeping their head down. Keep quiet and the interest will go away . . . on to the men’s game, presumably.
Indeed, originally the Harries conundrum ran in tandem with other unexplained absences.
Head coach Rowland Phillips, who by then had led Wales to qualification for this summer’s now postponed World Cup, suddenly departed on the eve of the 2019 autumn internationals.
He was simply “taking some time away” of course, before his exit was quietly confirmed the following March, minus any accompanying message of clarification.
Rumours inevitably surfaced. Whispers of differences with WRU performance director Ryan Jones grew louder.
But subsequent, and justified, media enquiries were treated as if they derived from wild abandon.
By sheer coincidence, the axe then fell on Phillips’ daughter Carys, the then captain and veteran of 51 caps.
Stand in-coach Chris Horsman cited the need to build for 2021 in his mitigation, seemingly oblivious to the fact she was 27 at the time of asking.
The hooker was recalled for this Six Nations by new coach Warren Abrahams before injury dictated otherwise. By which time, another cloud loomed.
Nine days before that chastening opener in France it was confirmed skills coach Rachel Taylor, who upon being appointed in November outlined her burning desire to help Abrahams progress the squad, was leaving.
Predictably, no reason was given for the departure. Not at the time, and not since.
There could be other citations.
Possible, albeit unlikely, is the notion that the figures central to the aforementioned were all architects of their own downfall.
They could have been guilty of “crimes” considered heinous within a national team set-up, leaving the powers that be with little alternative but to cut ties.
In contrast, there may even be plausible explanations owing to personal circumstances.
Providing reasoning in such circumstances wouldn’t be about feeding sharks, or instigating media frenzy.
It would harbour a squad surrounded by clarity, and bolster the WRU’s implication that it’s a group they care about and take with the same seriousness they afford to the men’s squad.
Alternatively, the nothing to see here approach, flanked by the inferences the public should ignore such happenings – and the players should plough on regardless – doesn’t protect the women’s international game in Wales.
It coldly disrespects it.
This Saturday, Wales Women host Ireland. It’s a game they could win, against a group who, like their hosts, have to battle on with amateur status and few luxuries.
It’s a game they could also conceivably lose.
In Siwan Lillicrap, they have a superb player and captain. They also have other individuals performing well in the Allianz Premier. They have a team that cares.
What they don’t have is the available funds, the professional set-up, or domestic structure behind them to be moving up the international ladder anytime soon.
And what they also don’t currently have, is one of their best players deemed adequate for selection, or their skills coach originally lauded as a fine appointment.
But regardless of your support for them – respect the WRU’s right to consistently stain their relevance.
In other words, just don’t ask why.