A kicking coach is on Wales’ wishlist ahead of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand this autumn after it proved to be a weakness during the Women’s Six Nations.
Particularly evident in the 10-8 defeat to Italy on Super Saturday, where pretty much all of Italy’s points came from poor Welsh kicking decisions, it is an area of the game which the women in red have struggled with for a number of seasons.
The likes of England, France and Italy all boast players who can kick with length, tactically and kick off the front foot, whereas Wales have struggled to kick for meaningful territory, have lacked the get-out-of-jail option when under the cosh defensively and missed out on valuable points via unsuccessful conversions.
Wales head coach Ioan Cunningham admits this area of the game needs plenty of attention before the World Cup kicks off in October, and is hopeful of a new coaching addition this summer.
“We’ve still got to focus on kicking, giving ourselves an opportunity to kick further, so that’s going to be skillset work with players as well as tactical work to put us in better positions to kick on our turns going onto ball,” he said. “We’ve been looking at a lot of additions, possibly, to the group that can help us and that’ll be one addition that we’ll be looking at. It is a big area of the game that we’ve got to fixed.”
Neil Jenkins and Leigh Halfpenny were mooted by media in attendance of a press call as to perfect candidates who could lend a hand, to which Cunningham said: “We’ve been looking at it in detail. There are discussions. Discussions happened during the Six Nations about the availability of coaches and other people that can come in and help us. We’ll continue to do that and hopefully progress will happen over the summer.”
Against England, Wales were camped in their own 22 for a period during the first half and struggled to exit, while against Italy they were kicking to the corner with penalties but only reaching 15-20 metres. “If we can fix those things, suddenly we become a harder team to beat and obviously we win games,” Cunningham said.
“There is so much kicking in the game now, not only just to kick long, but contestable kicks, because defenses are getting better. If you can’t play through a team you have got to play over them or around them and that’s when the kicking game comes in. It is something that we have got address before the World Cup.”
Gloucester-Hartpury outside-half Lleucu George, who is one of Wales’ part-time dozen, made her long-awaited first appearance of the Six Nations as a second-half replacement against Italy. Fans had been calling for her inclusion in a matchday 23 due to her strong kicking game – while her distribution skills have also been praised by Wales attack coach Richard Whiffin – but Cunningham chose to reward early performances from Elinor Snowsill and Robyn Wilkins, who have been vying for the starting fly-half jersey for some time. Scrum-half Keira Bevan has also been a nominated kicker this campaign, too.
“She’s definitely going to be part of our plans moving forward,” Cunningham said of 22-year-old George. “She’s part of our group, we’re working closely with her daily, getting her better. At the start of the campaign, we went with rewarding the players who did well, who beat Ireland and Scotland. Then we went into that England game with a similar sort of group, so that’s why she wasn’t involved early on, really.”
Other pre-World Cup priorities include focusing on attack detail, lineout and finishing off opponents when given the opportunity, while other additions to the set-up – a performance psychologist, for example – are being explored.
As for the campaign in general – with Wales securing a third-place finish, their best in 13 years – Cunningham is pleased overall with the progress already being made.
“We’ve definitely improved from the autumn. It’s great that we’ve evolved as a team, grown some depth in some positions as well. I’m sure once emotions settle, we will be pleased to finish third but disappointed to only win We’ve now got to critically look at ourselves, reflect, review and make sure we take the learnings from key areas of the game that we’ve got to develop before we go to a World Cup.”