Wales Women kicked off a new campaign and chapter with a 23-5 win over Japan, ending a 32-month wait for a win.
Cardiff Arms Park hosted an entertaining demonstration on Sunday as Welsh side Ioan Cunningham scored three tries on the scoreboard, complemented by opener Elinor Snowsill’s boot.
It was the first game for captain Siwan Lillicrap and her team since the Welsh Rugby Union announced they would offer contracts to 25 players earlier this week.
Wales and No.8 skipper Siwan Lillicrap gave her team a dream start when they touched down from a roster behind the wheel after just a minute of play.
GB Sevens star and player of the match Jasmine Joyce, starting from the back after lighting up the Sevens world stage in recent months, also scored two tries: one after a moment of magic and side step and another at close range who displayed his power.
Japan scored a late consolation try thanks to Seina Saito.
While the performance was entertaining and much improved from their winless Six Nations earlier this year, Wales will need to be more clinical and disciplined if they are to make the most of their opportunities, but defense was an area strong for the hosts.
Wales came out of the blocks shooting, debutante Kat Evans finding the jumper in her first lineup, and Wales quickly crossed the line thanks to Lillicrap on the back of a powerful rolling maul.
Snowsill was wide for the conversion, while a mistake by scrum half Keira Bevan recovering the ball from the back of the scrum saw Japan – who hadn’t played an international for almost two years – leap before the hosts do well to assemble after a chase.
Wales got their first penalty kick in the scrum in the 27th minute, opting for Snowsill’s posts to take the lead to 8-0. The second penalty in a successive scrum soon followed, with Caryl Thomas’ experience in the front row. Snowsill took Wales’ lead to 11-0.
Japan lowered the curtain in the first half by looking for the touch, before strongly starting the second half.
Wales brought center Megan Webb – cousin of Rhys Webb and Tommy Reffell – early in the second half to win her sixth cap replacing Hannah Jones, while Georgia Evans was given a yellow card early in the second act for a deliberate blow.
Former captain Carys Phillips and Cerys Hale were also brought from the bench.
Joyce went on to win the first of her two second-half tries, securing the end of a pass from Kerin Lake to rule out two defenders and score, displaying her unstoppable qualities as she shifts into high gear. Snowsill pulled off the conversion, taking Wales’ lead to 18-0.
Joyce deserves a mention for his tackle at the other end of the field after leaving his line, while Phillips was instrumental in achieving a turnover.
Keira Bevan, back in the Welsh jersey for the first time since March 2020, was replaced around the hour mark by Ffion Lewis while Alex Callender came off the bench to join the back row.
Webb was almost at the end of a try but was shot down just before the whitewash allowing Joyce to get his second try and Wales’ third with some force to cross the line at close range. Snowsill missed the conversion and Japan got a late consolation try thanks to Seina Saito but the conversion was missed.
Wales next face South Africa on Saturday 13 November (kick off at 12:15 p.m.), before ending their fall campaign against third-ranked Canada the following weekend.
Wales: (11) 23
Tests: Lillicrap, Joyce 2
Pens: Snowsill 2 Con: Snowsill
Japan: (0) 5
Wales Women: 15. Jasmine Joyce (Bristol Bears), 14. Lisa Neumann (Sale Sharks), 13. Hannah Jones (Gloucester-Hartpury), 12. Kerin Lake (Gloucester-Hartpury), 11. Courtney Keight (Bristol Bears), 10. Elinor Snowsill (Bristol Bears), 9. Keira Bevan (Bristol Bears), 1. Caryl Thomas (Worcester Warriors), 2. Kat Evans (Saracens), 3. Donna Rose (Saracens), 4. Natalia John (Bristol Bears), 5 Gwen Crabb (Gloucester-Hartpury), 6. Georgia Evans (Sarcens), 7. Bethan Lewis (Gloucester-Hartpury), 8. Siwan Lillicrap (captain, Bristol Bears).
Substitutes: 16. Carys Phillips (Worcester Warriors), 17. Cara Hope (Gloucester-Hartpury), 18. Cerys Hale (Gloucester-Hartpury), 19. Alex Callender (Worcester Warriors), 20. Alisha Butchers (Bristol Bears), 21. Ffion Lewis (Worcester Warrior), 22. Robyn Wilkins (Gloucester-Hartpury), 23. Megan Webb (Bristol Bears).
Japan: Ria Anoku; Noriko Taniguchi, Mana Furuta, Shione Nakayama, Hinano Nagura; Minori Yamamoto, Megumi Abe; Saki Minami (captain), Nijiho Nagata, Yuka Sadaka, Ayano Sakurai, Yuna Sato, Seina Saito, Iroha Nagata, Ayano Nagai.
Substitutes: Aymu Kokaji, Sachiko Kato, Makoto Lavemai, Kie Tamai, Yuki Ito, Moe Tsukui, Komachi Imakugi, Kanako Kobayashi.
Arbitrator: Clara Munarini Assistants: Maria Béatrice Benvenuti, Maria Giovanna Pacifico TMO: Stefano Penne (all of Italy)