WALES Women get their three-Test autumn series under way against South Africa at Cardiff Arms Park on Saturday (kick-off 11.30am), before taking on Hong Kong and Canada.

It is the biggest autumn series to date for Wales Women and comes on the back of a ramped up regional programme designed to improve conditioning, skills and match performances.

Head coach Rowland Phillips has named a strong side for the opening November challenge, with one uncapped player, Ospreys full-back Lauren Smyth, in the starting line-up and three – Manon Johnes, Ffion Lewis and Alicia McComish – on the bench.

Keira Bevan and Alisha Butchers make their return to the Wales team after long lay-offs due to injury, and the XV includes eight of the Regional Championship-winning Ospreys squad, plus three more among the replacements.

“Playing three autumn Tests is a serious statement of intent with regards to the continued development of Welsh women’s rugby,” said Phillips.

“On the back of the last Women’s Rugby World Cup, we highlighted the need to play more competitive rugby and gain more profile for the women’s game and we had the full backing of the WRU in putting together a full autumn campaign.

“Women’s rugby in Wales is growing, many young girls now have an ambition to play to a high standard, inspired by former and current internationals and it’s no surprise that the most successful international teams have a large playing base to support that.

“We want to help make those connections and it’s great to see that girls who play in the girls’ clusters around Wales will be part of Saturday’s match.”

Phillips added: “All players involved on Saturday have come through the recent regional pre-season and competition phase which has already produced some obvious results in terms of physical gains and improvements in performance.

“However, we are in the business of preparing teams for international rugby so the true test of the programme will be in our performances over the next three weeks.”

Of the new caps, Phillips said: “We knew Lauren (Smyth) was talented. She’s been involved in the sevens programme, but the regional programme really accelerated her development – her performances were outstanding throughout.”

Phillips is also excited about the debutants on the bench.

He added: “At 17, Manon is technically and tactically mature and is a hugely exciting prospect.

“Ffion has been knocking on the door for a while through the sevens programme but she’s kicked on throughout the regional programme to gain this opportunity and I’m looking forward to seeing how she gets on.

“Alicia’s situation shows how the programme has helped us widen the net at this level as she had previously been involved with Wales Sevens but impressed during the programme.

“She brings a great attitude and it’ll be exciting to see her develop.”

He continued: “We know that South Africa are a good, powerful side who have made significant progress recently.

“It’s a great opportunity to play these matches as part of the international weekends in Cardiff.”

Wales Women: Lauren Smyth (Ospreys); Jasmine Joyce (Scarlets), Alecs Donnovan (Ospreys), Kerin Lake (Ospreys), Jess Kavanagh (RGC); Robyn Wilkins (Blues), Keira Bevan (Ospreys); Caryl Thomas (Dragons), Carys Phillips (captain, Ospreys), Amy Evans (Ospreys), Siwan Lillicrap (Ospreys), Mel Clay (Ospreys), Alisha Butchers (Scarlets), Bethan Lewis (Dragons), Sioned Harries (Scarlets)

Replacements: Kelsey Jones (Ospreys), Cara Hope (Ospreys), Cerys Hale (Dragons), Natalia John (Ospreys), Manon Johnes (Blues), Ffion Lewis (Scarlets), Alicia McComish (Dragons), Lisa Neumann (RGC)

Wales Women November Test Series

Saturday, Nov 10, Wales Women v South Africa, 11.30am

Friday, Nov 16, Wales Women v Hong Kong, 7pm

Saturday, Nov 24, Wales Women v Canada, 11.30am