WALES Women head coach Ioan Cunningham has made no apologies for pushing his players to their limits this summer as they build towards the World Cup in New Zealand in October.

The former Scarlets coach has named a 37-player squad to travel to Canada this weekend for a training week culminating in a Test match in Halifax on Saturday, August 27, 5pm (9pm UK time).

All eyes are firmly fixed on their opening game in Pool A against Scotland on Sunday, October 9, in Whangarei, but before then Cunningham’s goal has been to turn his team into one of the fittest in the world.

A week-long trip to Canada, which will include a competitive training session against the Canadians and a Test match against the home team, will give him a chance to assess how much progress has been made. When the two teams met in Cardiff last November, Wales led 7-0 at the break before going down 24-7 in the end.

He said, “We’ve told the group that we want them to be known as one of the fittest teams around, which means we have to work hard every day. We don’t want anyone to out-work us.

“Going to Canada will give us a chance to look at the gains we have made in that department. We had a good game against Canada in the autumn in which we did really well for about 60 minutes but Canada pulled away in the end. That’s something we’re looking forward to seeing – how we finish games, how we stay in the fight and being away from home with 37 players is going to pull us even closer together as a group.”

Wales also have a pre-world cup international scheduled against England at Ashton Gate, Bristol on 14 September.

“We’ve come off the back of a tough July where we pushed the girls hard physically. Now we are transitioning more towards the rugby side of things,” added Cunningham.

“We want to see the shift in our fitness levels come into play in our rugby sessions. Going to Canada is like experiencing a mini-World Cup – we’ll have to get on a plane, fly to a different country, adapt quickly and get used to new training facilities.

“That’s going to be tough, but it will be great preparation and give the 36 players another chance to bond. We finish with a Test match which will be great for us as ahead of the World Cup.

“It will be a different week to a normal Test match week because we are still in pre-season mode. It will be a tough challenge for the group.

“They will go into the game slightly more fatigued than usual, but that’s fine because the goal is to be in peak condition for the opening game against Scotland in October. They are going to be pushed and tested and we want to see how they respond under that sort of fatigue.

“Speaking to the girls and asking them about how they are feeling they are telling us they feel a lot better, they have a lot more in them and they can run a lot harder. That’s pleasing to hear and we know the players are in better shape physically, their body composition has changed, they are stronger, faster.”

Having played a fairly consistent squad for most of last season, Cunningham is keen to increase the pool of players with Test experience within his squad.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for some players who didn’t have many or any opportunities during the Six Nations and we want to reward some players who have trained really well with us recently. We’re excited to see how they deliver against a top nation.”

“Competition is very high. We have to finalise a 32 to get on the plane and we want players to have a chance to show us what they can do. If they go out and perform, the opportunity is there for them for the world cup and beyond

Wales squad for Canada:

Keira Bevan – Bristol Bears
Alisha Butchers – Bristol Bears
Alex Callender – Worcester Warriors
Gwen Crabb – Gloucester-Hartpury
Georgia Evans – Saracens
Kat Evans – Saracens
Abbie Fleming – Exeter Chiefs
Lleucu George – Gloucester-Hartpury
Cerys Hale – Gloucester-Hartpury
Sioned Harries – Worcester Warriors
Eloise Hayward* – Loughborough Lightning
Cara Hope – Gloucester-Hartpury
Natalia John – Gloucester-Hartpury
Manon Johnes – Bristol Bears
Hannah Jones – Gloucester-Hartpury
Kelsey Jones – Gloucester-Hartpury
Jasmine Joyce – Bristol Bears
Kerin Lake – Gloucester-Hartpury
Bethan Lewis – Gloucester-Hartpury
Caitlin Lewis – Exeter Chiefs
Ffion Lewis – Worcester Warriors
Siwan Lillicrap – Gloucester-Hartpury
Lisa Neumann – Gloucester Hartpury
Lowri Norkett* – Worcester Warriors
Carys Phillips – Worcester Warriors
Liliana Podpadec* – Llandaff North
Kayleigh Powell – Bristol Bears
Gwenllian Pyrs – Bristol Bears
Donna Rose – Saracens
Jenni Scoble* = Llandaff North
Elinor Snowsill – Bristol Bears
Niamh Terry – Worcester Warriors
Caryl Thomas – Worcester Warriors
Sisilia Tuipulotu – Gloucester-Hartpury
Meg Webb – Bristol Bears
Robyn Wilkins – Worcester Warriors
Carys Williams* – Loughborough Lightning