Wales increase professional players to 32 as Jasmine Joyce returns

Jasmine Joyce
Two-time Olympian Jasmine Joyce has won 31 caps for Wales

Great Britain sevens star Jasmine Joyce is to return to action with Wales, who have also handed professional contracts to another seven players.

Joyce, who has not played 15-a-side rugby since the 2022 World Cup, joins the squad alongside Kayleigh Powell on new hybrid contracts with Team GB.

Courtney Keight, Hannah Bluck, Carys Williams-Morris, Abbey Constable, Kate Williams, Bryonie King and Megan Davies are the new players given contracts.

Wales now have 32 full-time players.

Joyce and Powell will be available for Wales in 2023-24 but will also be aiming to represent Team GB at the Paris Olympics in 2024.

Joyce, 27, has played sevens at the last two Olympic Games.

The return of Joyce and Powell, coupled with the addition of seven new professional players, is a timely boost for Ioan Cunningham's side as they prepare to take on the world's best teams in tier one of the new WXV tournament in New Zealand in October.

"We are delighted to be able to offer these players contracts and it is a significant investment into our programme and demonstrates the value the WRU (Welsh Rugby Union) sees in women's rugby," Cunningham said.

Wales are in their third professional year and progress has been measured with back-to-back third-place finishes in the Six Nations, and an all-time highest world ranking of sixth.

Williams-Morris has been with the squad since the start of the year thanks to her RAF elite athlete status, and she is now on a full-time WRU contract in partnership with the RAF.

Former New Zealand naval officer Kate Williams signs her first deal after making her debut in the 2023 Six Nations, along with King and Constable.

Bluck, who made her international comeback in the same campaign, also joins the professional ranks with Davies.

Joyce and Powell are both eligible for the WXV tournament and the 2024 Six Nations, although Powell will miss the trip to New Zealand along with Keight due to injury.

Ffion Lewis has already been ruled out, while Elinor Snowsill recently announced her retirement.

Carys Williams-Morris
Carys Williams-Morris also plays for the RAF Women's Senior XV

"To be able to have more professionals full-time means we get more coaching time and will build our strength in depth and competition in the squad and that can only make us a better team," said Cunningham.

"Competition for places always drives standards in every squad and we have already reaped the benefits of that over the last two seasons with our performances on the field."

Cunningham expressed concern during this year's Six Nations that Wales would be "left behind again" as rival countries moved towards making entire squads professional.

"It's a challenge, 24 contracts is good, but you need a squad of 32 minimum," he said in March.

Cunningham says Wales "cannot afford to stand still".

"We have seen other nations increase their number of full-time contracted players and we cannot underestimate how big an impact it is to have players totally focused on being an elite athlete. It drives performance and competition," he added.

Wales kick of their WXV campaign against Canada on 21 October in Wellington, before taking on the hosts in Dunedin on 28 October and Australia in Auckland on 3 November.