Wales and Scotland meet at Cardiff Arms Park on Saturday for a Women’s Six Nations 2022 encounter that could also hold significance on the road to Rugby World Cup 2021.
Scotland’s prize for victory against Colombia in the RWC 2021 Final Qualification Tournament in Dubai was a place in Pool A alongside hosts New Zealand, Australia and Wales, who they will play in their opening match in Whangārei on 9 October.
The two teams had contrasting starts to this season’s Women’s Six Nations as Wales produced a stunning second-half comeback to beat Ireland in Dublin while their opponents on Saturday suffered a home defeat to England.
Wales coach Ioan Cunningham has picked an unchanged squad for round two, meaning winger Lisa Neumann, who made her test debut in this fixture four years ago, will get a chance to add to her two tries against the Scots.
Angerdd 🏴 This is just the start of #HerStory. pic.twitter.com/WoASfuVdPB— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) March 26, 2022
Morale in the Wales camp is understandably high on the back of last weekend’s victory, but Neumann says the players understand the importance of backing up that result on Saturday.
“They’ve come away from a heavy loss [but] they’re going to look at us as a team for one that they can definitely beat,” she told World Rugby.
“I guess with the World Cup being at the end of the year as well, for them it's massive. It's important because we're going to be battling against each other.
“So, I think we've both got something to lose going into this game, but also, we both have something to gain. They’re not going to face us and not give everything, basically.
“We're all very aware of that. I think it's just important to know how it is that we can perform against them and then put everything we've done in training into that game so that we come away with a good performance.”
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Saturday will be Wales’ second test since the Welsh Rugby Union rewarded 12 players with full-time contracts and a further 11 with retainer deals at the beginning of the year.
If the win against Ireland can be used as a barometer, then it seems that investment is already paying off. It was certainly pleasing for Welsh fans to watch their team get stronger as the match in Dublin wore on.
“Fitness comes into it massively and I think in previous games we have lost in the last 20 [minutes],” Neumann said.
“With us now being professional, and even the part-time contracts, it gives us that time to put more into our training.
“I'd probably say it has contributed [but] I think it's more than fitness, though. We've had time to focus on skills, we've got more time to individually prepare rather than solely as a team and I think that goes a long way.
“So, there's a lot of things that we've been able to focus on and prepare going into games.”
Seizing her opportunity
Neumann’s life has changed pretty dramatically since she became a full-time rugby player in January. Having quit her job in the clinical trials industry to take up the contract offer, she relocated from Manchester to Cardiff.
That move also necessitated a switch in club as Neumann left Sale Sharks for English Premier 15s rivals Gloucester-Hartpury.
“I’ve loved it and I’m really glad I’ve taken this opportunity,” she said.
“I’ve seen a massive shift in my recovery, just because I'm purely not sitting in the car for eight hours a day, driving to training. So, I think that's been a massive shift.
“For me, it's being able to have more time to put into other things... [but] I think the biggest thing is waking up knowing I don't need to go into an office job the next day and then do everything I'm doing now, but on top of that job.
“So, just having the mental clarity is massive and it just unloads a massive stress off my shoulders. That's the biggest thing.
“If I look back now, I don't I don't know how I quite managed it, and I don't think I would like to go back to doing both. So obviously, I'm very fortunate to be in this position.”
According to Neumann, a successful Championship for Wales would be one in which the team put into practice what they have been doing in training while “not leaving anything out on the field”.
Looking further ahead than the Women’s Six Nations, though, she admits it would be a dream to represent her country at RWC 2021 in New Zealand.
“The more we’re chipping away at the months now to the World Cup, it just gets more and more exciting,” Neumann said.
“You can’t really say that New Zealand isn't a place you want to go visit. I think it'll be an amazing experience.
“I mean, [RWC 2021] being in New Zealand is incredible again, it just sets it apart from other places, but I think wherever the World Cup is just a dream for so many athletes.
“It's a dream of mine to go, so hopefully with it all going well I can be there.”