Cardiff’s Gwennan Hopkins has been named in the Wales squad for the upcoming Celtic Challenge.
Head coach Mike Hill, who will lead the Wales Development XV in the four-fixture, cross-border competition, has named an extended 42-player squad for the campaign, which includes a blend of youth, experience and promising players from the club scene in Wales.
Back row star Hopkins is also a member of the Cardiff U18 squad this season, having been named the side’s Player of the Year in 2021/22. The Hartpury College student scored a brace as the Blue and Blacks kicked off the Regional Age Grade Championship campaign on a winning note last week.
Hopkins is joined in the squad by a number of players who have worn the Cardiff jersey over the years, including international lock Abbie Fleming - now of Exeter Chiefs - Kira Philpott and Katie Jenkins, who is the sister of current men’s first team flanker, Ellis.
Further international experience is included in the form of Teleri Wyn Davies, Kat Evans, Caitlin Lewis and Lauren Smyth.
Cardiff Arms Park will serve as Wales’ home for the campaign, where they will host a Combined Provinces XV on Sunday, January 29, and Thistles on Saturday, February 11.
The initiative, in partnership with World Rugby, aims to bridge the gap between domestic and international game across the Celtic nations, will see one team from Wales, Ireland and Scotland play each other in home and away matches over the coming month. The intention is that the competition will develop further next season with up to six teams, two from each nation.
World Rugby Director of Women’s Rugby Sally Horrox said, “With World Rugby committed to advancing the competitiveness of the elite women’s game, the international federation is financially supporting the Celtic Challenge Pilot in 2023 and is in productive discussions with the IRFU, SRU and WRU on a long-term vision for the competition.”
The squad has been in training throughout the holiday period, at the National Centre of Excellence and at the Gnoll and Hill, who is assisted by WRU Lead Female Age Grade Coach Liza Burgess and Rhys Pritchard is excited by both the talent and the enthusiasm of all involved.
He said, “We’ve been really impressed as coaches and the players have really bought into what we’re trying to do. There has been huge improvement in a short space of time and given the difference in age and experience across the squad, the players have made a real effort to gel and get to know each other. We are working closely with club and University coaches both in Wales and across the border and while more than 60 players have trained with us already, the door is certainly not closed.
“The programme is already paying dividends in terms of talent identification and allowing players to develop within a performance environment. There are certainly a number of girls who could well step up to the next level of rugby from this group. The matches will provide invaluable experience in terms of preparation, travelling as a group and performing against teams from other nations. There will be no pressure on the girls for results at this stage. It’s all about development and asking the players to show us what they can do with a smile on their face. Hopefully then, some good performances will follow, results too but that’s certainly not the key factor this season.”
Celtic Challenge squad 2023:
Katie Carr (Pontyclun Falcons)
Rosie Carr (Pontyclun Falcons/Cardiff Met)
Chelsea Chesters (Whitland)
Abbey Constable (Gloucester Hartpury/Cheltenham Tigers )
Teleri Wyn Davies* (Caernarfon)
Danielle Dinapoli (Cheltenham Tigers)
Kat Evans* (Saracens)
Tara Finnegan (Pontyclun Falcons)
Abbie Fleming* (Exeter Chiefs)
Chloe Fletcher (Bath Ladies)
Melissa Gnojek (Seven Sisters)
Dali Hopkins (Ospreys/Greyhounds)
Gwennan Hopkins (Cardiff/Hartpury College)
Katie Jenkins (Pontyclun Falcons)
Erin Jones (RGC/ Nant Conwy)
Sara Jones (Pontyclun Falcons)
Charlotte Mundy (Pontyclun Falcons)
Ffion Owen (Pontyclun Falcons/Cardiff Met)
Kira Philpott (Llandaff North)
Alaw Pyrs (RGC U18s, Nant Conwy)
Jessica Rogers (Ospreys U18s, Cardiff Met)
Jenni Scoble (Worcester Warriors)
Scarlett Thomas-Thompson (DMP Sharks/Durham University)
Molly Wakely (Dragons U18s/Nelson Belles)
Leanne Burnell (Pontyclun Falcons)
Lowri Davies (Seven Sisters/Cheltenham Tigers)
Meg Davies (Bristol Bears)
Jenna De Vera (Scarlets/Burry Port)
Chelsea Jones (Nelson Belles)
Caitlin Lewis* (Gloucester-Hartpury)
Danai Mugabe (Cardiff Met)
Jade Mullen (Harlequins)
Anwen Owen (Bristol Bears/Nelson Belles)
Molly Philpott (Llandaff North)
Molly Reardon (Dragons)
Catherine Richards (Cardiff Met)
Lauren Smyth* (Bristol Bears)
Seren Singleton (Cardiff Met)
Niamh Tinman (Pontyclun Falcons)
Amelia Tutt (Loughborough Lightening)
Amy Williams (Dragons U18s)
Chelsea Williams (Nelson Belles)
*capped Wales international
WRU Development XV fixtures 2023:
Sunday 22 January v Thistles, Scotstoun, Glasgow 2.30pm
Sunday 29 January v Combined Provinces XV Cardiff Arms Park 11am
Saturday 11 Feb v Thistles Cardiff Arms Park 4.30pm
Saturday 18 Febuary v Combined Provinces XV Kingspan Stadium, Belfast, 4.30pm