Skipper Hannah Jones says Wales are reaping the benefits of full-time contracts
Wales captain Hannah Jones has already witnessed an enormous improvement in her side as a result of the professional contracts issued to players for the first time last year.
The initial swoop of signings, which took effect in January 2022, saw 12 Welsh women receive full-time deals while another 17 later joined on six-month contracts ahead of last autumn’s World Cup.
The Welsh Rugby Union in March announced 25 players would be on full-time contracts for 2023, a move the skipper believes will be monumental in shifting her squad’s mentality.
Jones told the PA news agency: “Prior to the contracts girls were working full-time, in university full-time, trying to juggle work and a professional lifestyle as an athlete. And you’re really not giving your all to that athlete.
“(Before) you had to be super organised. I’ve got this at this point, this at this point, making sure that you’re fitting everything in, with your diet, your nutrition, it’s so much better now, and I’m very grateful for it.
“I’ve definitely seen a change since I’ve been able to have that full-time contract and solely focus on rugby, in physical changes, mental changes, it’s just huge for the group and we’ll keep working on that.”
Wales are carrying a spotless 2023 Six Nations record so far, beating Ireland 31-5 before grinding out a 34-22 victory over Scotland in round two. On Saturday they will face the biggest test of their transformed side against four-time defending champions England.
The Cardiff Arms Park encounter is sold-out and poised to set a record for a Wales women’s home match with over 8,000 tickets snapped up, almost double the 4,962 who turned up for their Ireland opener – itself a record-setter.
Jones, 26, who alongside many of her Wales team-mates plays her club rugby with second-placed, title-chasing Allianz Premier 15s side Gloucester-Hartpury, said: “Even with the crowd against Ireland it was pretty loud and encouraging, so to have double the amount now is crazy. Hopefully we enjoy that and we thrive off that vibe around the stadium.”
Wales will need the support as they look to upset the Red Roses, who travel to the Welsh capital following decisive victories over Scotland and Italy. England are eyeing up a fourth consecutive Grand Slam after the pandemic prevented it from being contested in 2021.
It was that Covid-tinged tournament that initially forced the women’s competition to be played in a separate window several weeks after the men’s, but the move proved so popular it became a deliberate decision to do the same in 2022, when the women’s Championship also took on a title sponsor, TikTok, for the first time.
“I’ve been in the squad for about eight years now and every year just gets bigger and bigger,” said Jones.
“You get noticed a little more when you’re just going shopping and stuff like that. Obviously we’ve been shown on the TV a bit more, media has definitely improved, so girls can definitely look up to us and want to be rugby players for their careers now, which is brilliant.”
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.