Almost eight months without match action has been tough to take for Siwan Lillicrap, but the Wales skipper believes the chance to reflect and regroup could stand her team in good stead as they look to right the wrongs of a turgid campaign so far.
The Bristol Bears and Ospreys star, 33, endured a gradual rise to the top level, joining Waunarlwydd RFC aged 17 and later spending almost five years in the extended Wales squad, before she won the first of 34 caps aged 28.
Having been handed the captaincy last November, Lillicrap had high hopes heading into the current campaign, after Wales finished fourth in the 2019 Championship – their best finish in a decade – before claiming three wins from five matches last autumn.
But this year, Wales were unable to recapture their best form ahead prior to the coronavirus pandemic, falling to four successive defeats that leaves them rooted to the bottom of the table.
With the introduction of interim boss Darren Edwards in September, though, Lillicrap is confident her side can demonstrate their true quality in their final clash and conclude their campaign with a bang.
“It’s obviously been a long and very different summer, but we’ve all kept busy with work and training,” said Lillicrap, who is also head of rugby at Swansea University.
“It was great for us to have a focus and to make sure our bodies are in a better place after what has been a big 12 months for us. It was a long lockdown, but I don’t think it will have done us any harm as a squad.
“Things didn’t go the way we would have wanted at the start of the year, but we need to remember the journey we’ve been on and the number of youngsters we’ve had capped in the last year.
“The girls are really excited to get going again and Darren has come in as interim head coach. He’s had some fresh ideas and given a fresh pair of eyes. He’s a great coach and he’s been hammering some stuff home for us which is great.”
Wales end their 2020 Women’s Six Nations campaign at home to Bryan Easson’s Scotland on Sunday, knowing they are in for a tough challenge against a side who mounted an impressive comeback to hold 2018 Grand Slam champions France 13-13 last time out.
But having been surrounded by her teammates in camps for over a month, Lillicrap has seen enough to breed plenty of confidence ahead of kick-off, while she is itching for a shift in momentum ahead of next year’s Rugby World Cup.
She added: “A lot of graft has gone in so hopefully we’re all in a better place for it. We’ve been in for the last four weeks or so and it’s been really nice to be back in together as a squad.
“We’ve got some unfinished business to do and this is a game we want to win. The girls are up for it, we want to prove a point and this is the start of our journey to the next World Cup in New Zealand.”