By James Dodd
Wales women’s coach Warren Abrahams believes mixing up his selection is a key strategy to make his team more competitive.
Abrahams, who was appointed to his role in November, has made four changes from the side who were dealt a 53-0 hammering in France last weekend.
Cara Hope and Cerys Hale replace Caryl Thomas and Donna Rose in the front row respectively. Elsewhere, Natalia John comes in at lock and Courtney Keight starts at 11 as Jasmine Joyce is away on GB sevens duty.
Abrahams has also addressed the issue over why Rachel Taylor ended her brief spell as his assistant just prior to the opening game of the tournament..
The former Wales captain joined the set-up with Abrahams but resigned just a week before the opener in France.
Abrahams has just put this down to personal reasons.
“People make personal choices, she made a choice, and we support her in her decision,” he said.
“We thank her for her work – she has done an incredible job while she was here. For now, all we can focus on is Ireland.”
The match against the Irish presents an opportunity for Wales to make amends, but Abrahams has decided changes were needed.
“Obviously, we’ve got a big squad at the moment. We’ve got to make those rotations and look at giving each individual an opportunity,” Abrahams said.
“We look at the front row with Cerys and Cara coming in this week to give them a crack at it. As you’ve highlighted, we’ve got a shorter format so the ball is in their court to put their hands up for selection for that last game.
“It provokes a little bit of competition there as well. And then obviously young Niamh Terry and Caitlin Lewis on the bench this week. That’s another great opportunity for them.
“We send Jas (Joyce) back to GB for this week – that was always our agreement for the big picture because we want to make sure as a program that we give Jas and Hannah (Jones) the best opportunity to go to the Olympics.
“It gives an opportunity for two young players to come in. Hopefully, they get a chance as well. Like I said, it’s a competition. We’ve got to compete for places, and it makes that finals game a little bit more interesting.”
At full-back, Robyn Wilkins starts to make her 50th cap for Wales. The Gloucester-Hartpury player made her debut back in 2014 when she was just 18 years old.
Abrahams believes she is a huge part of the squad and doesn’t underestimate the magnitude of Wilkins’ achievement.
“She’s been incredible for this group. She’s playing out of position at the moment. To get to this stage with 50 caps – it’s a pretty special moment,” the former USA women’s sevens coach said.
“Obviously, you’ve got to look at the number of games they play within the women’s game. It makes it even more special because they don’t play as many games as they do within the men’s competition.
“She’s done an incredible job for a while now within the squad. The way she has grown over the last few weeks, or last few months, actually. Since I’ve come in, I’ve really seen her grow and develop.
“The smile she’s got on her face in training these days. She’s growing into an incredible woman and she’s been a great leader for the team.
“Like I said, she’s putting the team first again and in her 50th game. When you reach those numbers, you can easily say my preference is to play fly-half.
“She’s putting the team first. It’s just a testament of her as a person. I’m really proud of her and I’m really proud of this achievement. That’s everyone across the board – management, players, everyone.”
Despite the disappointing start and only having two matches remaining due to a shortened championship this year, Abrahams still thinks there were some positives to take from their trip to Vannes.
In particular, he was happy with the mindset of his team during the 80 minutes last week.
“We’ve always said that we’re going to measure our attitude and behaviours – there was definitely some elements of that. Perhaps not as consistent as we wanted to be.
“We’ve seen a lot of the fight and hunger there in that game. We had great opportunities. We had a tough review on Monday and Tuesday as a group, as a playing group, and as a coaching and management group.
“The frustrating thing is we created opportunities for ourselves, we just didn’t capitalise on them. Those are the lessons we learnt, and we have to go again.”
Wales face Ireland this Saturday at Cardiff Arms Park, with kick-off at 5pm.