Pride Of Place Within Welsh Rugby

Harry Corish - Sportin Journalist

Pride of place within Welsh rugby at the weekend should be shared, perhaps, between Wales Women and the Scarlets.

One team dealt with the novelty of expectation, whilst the other achieved a victory few saw coming.

Wales were fancied to do well in their opening match of the 2023 TikTok Women’s Six Nations, against Ireland at Cardiff Arms Park.

But the players who finished third in the tournament last season – and have been improving rapidly since the introduction of full-time professional contracts – still had to go out and deal with carrying the tag of firm favourites.

They managed it in style, winning 31-5 and scoring five tries in front of a record home crowd for a Wales Women’s match of 4,962.

If ever a game showcased the vibrancy and growth potential of women’s rugby in Wales, this was it, with their biggest winning margin in the tournament for eight years.

They even had a new star to salute, a player who coach Ioan Cunningham believes will go on to become one of the true global icons of the women’s game.

Step forward and take a bow, 19-year-old Sisilia Tuipulotu. The youngster from Newport has recently switched from playing second row to tight-head prop, a position to which she appears far more suited.

Tuipulotu – who plays for Gloucester-Hartpury – scored Wales’ fifth and final try, but maybe the highlight of the day was when the TV cameras panned on her to announce she was player of the match.

Her joy and modest celebrations were TV gold.

Some hours later, there were more celebrations over in Llanelli as the Scarlets enjoyed a very different kind of victory.

The Sharks had arrived from South Africa with no fewer than 10 Springbok internationals in their ranks and most pundits were expecting them to crush the Welsh region.

Instead, the Scarlets rolled back the years with a display of cunning and commitment to win 32-20 and keep alive their outside hopes of qualification through their United Rugby Championship placing for next season’s Heineken European Cup.

Steff Evans scored a couple of poacher’s tries, but the guiding hand was applied by young outside-half Sam Costelow.

The 22-year-old kicked 22 points and managed to control events, facing a pack that included the Springboks front row and their legendary forwards Siya Kolisi and Eben Etzebeth.

No wonder Scarlets coach Dwayne Peel was talking afterwards about the performance being the best he has seen since he returned to the club two years ago.

Elsewhere, the Ospreys beat the Dragons 37-18 in a Welsh regional derby that could have seen the final appearance of legendary former Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones.

There were no announcements – but plenty of clues as the great man waved to all sides of the Stadium when he was replaced in the second half.

It was the Ospreys’ final match at their own home this season and the 38-year-old Jones has given no reason to think he plans to continue after going with Wales to the World Cup in France in September.

Cardiff also won – overcoming a late fightback in Italy against Zebre to take a bonus-point 34-30 victory that keeps alive their hopes of making the play-offs.