CARYS Cox scored a hat-trick as Wales beat Spain 52-20 at Cardiff Arms Park to qualify for next year’s World Cup and tier two of the WXV tournament.

Ioan Cunningham’s side secured a spot at England 2025 and will now head to South Africa for WXV2 in September, but they were given a scare in the capital.

In a ‘must-win’ match Wales sped into a 14-point lead in as many minutes, found themselves trailing 15-14 after half-an-hour before heading into the break with their noses in front at 21-20.

In the end it was the Cox hat-trick and a brace of tries from flanker Alisha Joyce-Butchers that carried Wales to the vital victory – with Keira Bevan adding five of the six conversions of the eight Welsh tries.

Wales got off to the perfect start playing into the wind and strong sunshine and it took only four minutes for them to get the scoreboard moving.

OPENER: Alex Callender got Wales off to a flying start against SpainOPENER: Alex Callender got Wales off to a flying start against Spain (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

They held onto the ball, moved it purposefully and an inside ball enabled Alex Callender to burst over at the posts.

Scrum half Bevan added the extras and Hannah Jones’ side had laid down their marker.

The Spaniards came into the game having been crowned European champions for the seventh successive season, and leading 7-2 in the series of games between the two countries, and were quick to show their ability.

From the re-start Wales conceded a penalty. Amalia Argudo kicked into the 22 and now it was Wales’ turn to show off their defensive skills.

They stopped the driving line-out, held the Spaniards at bay close to their line buy then had to rely on a trademark Callender turn over to clear their lines after a forward pass from Lleucu George had conceded a five metre scrum.

Once the home side got back up field they struck again with lock Abbie Fleming crossing at the posts for Bevan to once again convert.

The attempt by Jones’ team to blow the Spaniards out of the water was well on track at that stage, but the visitors had other plans, helped by a yellow card picked up by Cox for an alleged deliberate knock-on.

CARRY: Sisilia Tuipulotu on the charge for Wales against SpainCARRY: Sisilia Tuipulotu on the charge for Wales against Spain (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

Amalia Argudo kicked a penalty and then a speculative cross field kick was returned with interest by the fleet-footed Spanish back line and the move ended up with loose head prop Ines Antolinez crossing from close range. Argudo converted and suddenly the gap was only four points.

And the Spanish revolt wasn’t over. When wing Claudia Pena took an inside pass from a line-out peel in the home 22 to reach the line the Spaniards found themselves leading 15-14.

The first half action didn’t end there as Wales hit back immediately with the first of Joyce-Butchers’ two tries, which Bevan again improved.

Spain had the final word in a topsy-turvy first-half as full back Claudia Pena ran in an excellent overlap score.

But that was as good as it got for the Spaniards as Wales got into their stride and sped clear with five fabulous tries.

CELEBRATION: Wales eased away from Spain in the second halfCELEBRATION: Wales eased away from Spain in the second half (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

Cox picked up three of them, Joyce-Butchers got her second and full back Jenny Hesketh raced 30 metres for the other.

In the end it was a job very well done for Wales and head coach Cunningham can now stop planning with confidence for the 2025 World Cup and for how he can upset Australia, Italy, Japan, Scotland and South Africa at WX2 in the autumn.

“This win is everything for us as a group. We went to the World Cup in 2022 and WXV1 last year so to get back to another World Cup is big,” he said.

"It was a real arm wrestle in that first half but in a strange way it was good to go through a bit of adversity.

"We could see after 45-50 minutes they were starting to go, we kept the foot on the throat and I'm pleased with the way we got through it.”

Wales: Jenny Hesketh; Lisa Neumann, Hannah Jones (captain), Kerin Lake, Carys Cox; Lleucu George, Keira Bevan; Gwenllian Pyrs, Carys Phillips, Sisilia Tuipulotu, Abbie Fleming, Georgia Evans, Alisha Butchers, Alex Callender, Bethan Lewis.

Replacements: Molly Reardon, Abbey Constable, Donna Rose, Kate Williams, Gwennan Hopkins, Sian Jones, Robyn Wilkins, Courtney Keight.