There is no doubt that New Zealand is ahead in Women’s 15s, but with the women’s game booming in Australia and fresh off the back our Olympic success with the women’s 7’s NOW is the time perfect time for Wallaroos to get some time in the spotlight.
Let’s face it, they are our only hope for us to get our hands on some trans-Tasman silverware.
But of more importance is that everything the Wallaroos are doing is focused towards the build-up for the 2017 Rugby World Cup in Ireland.
WHO ARE THE WALLAROOS?
The players are amateurs and are reliant on continuing to find ways to help support their rugby addiction and chase the dream of representing their country. It’s a huge commitment and sacrifice to juggle playing around career, family and fundraising.
The Wallaroos have historically had a lack of international game time until the actual year of the Rugby World Cup which then presents the challenge of a packed schedule. Then the tests are all played in a compressed time frame to reduce cost which adds an extra challenge to playing women’s rugby. One challenge their male counterparts don’t have to deal with. Many of the girls have entered the RWC with only one or two international caps under their belt. While there is a reasonably well established domestic competition system and a good club scene it is probably fair to suggest that Sevens has been better supported and is the more common entry point for women wanting to play rugby.
Wallaroos’ Head Coach Paul Verrell recently expressed his optimism at the increased funding and support the team is receiving, explaining that resources are significantly more now than in 2014.
The Wallaroos approach the first test with 13 uncapped players in the squad in comparison to the Black Ferns who have just three.
The Black Ferns and NZ women’s rugby is supported by a good club structure, a well-established National competition and they have a history of sufficient funding for annual End of Year Tours. This provides many of their players with the opportunities’ to build plenty of test experience
Like their male counterparts, the Black Ferns are globally ranked #1. The Wallaroos are ranked #6. The Wallaroos have not been successful against the Black Ferns in 14 tests.
More than that, the Black Ferns have won four out of five RWC’s. They fell unexpectedly to 5th in 2014. Talk about an axe to grind! Surprisingly enough there is a heavy focus in NZ on rectifying this in 2017. They played three undefeated tests in the 2015 EOYT – against USA (rank #7), England (rank #3), and Canada (rank #2).
The Black Ferns have featured a squad of 50 that have been undergoing training, strength and conditioning since the start of the year.
Women’s 15’s in New Zealand is largely built around the Farah Palmer Cup (Women’s Provincial Championship). Auckland Storm won the championship in 2015 and were runners up this year.
Things are changing – improving – for Women’s rugby in Australia. There is a positive tail over from Sevens and very importantly Buildcorp (of NRC fame) are on board as the naming sponsor. Well done and thank you Buildcorp! (again).
One thing that bodes well for the Wallaroo squad is that the Sydney representational team carried off an undefeated tour of NZ in the run up to this year’s National Women’s Championship. Quite a few Sydney-siders have made the squad. Another “club” worth mentioning is the ADFRU (Australian Defence Force) who do well in providing squad members for the Wallaroos. The squad includes players from most states including WA. The squad has been in training at Bond University since the Championship.
The Wallaroos faced, and defeated, the Auckland Storm in a pre-test warm-up on Tuesday – a 21-19 nail-biter.
The Storm were without 6 players (on Black Fern duty). A number of Wallaroos were also rested on rotation. These rotations are tough as the squad size is significantly smaller than, say, the Wallabies. Most players will simply have to back up four days later. And back up again for the second test another four days after that. When was the last time that the blokes had to manage that?
Coach Paul Verrell is quoted as saying, “They were a bit shell shocked in that first half.” Remind yourself that we had no less than eight international debutants starting, and another three on the bench. All squad debutants are now blooded. Other reports in NZ indicate a dominating performance by the Storm in the set piece – the Wallaroo line out in particular under threat. This is essential to the building of experience – these rugby players now have the start of an understanding of what to expect. We’re already doing better than past RWC campaigns!
Of course the Wallaroos squeezed back against the Storm with plenty of composure. Chloe Leaupepe (fly half in the absence of captain Ash Hewson – rested) kicked a 3 pointer in the dying minutes of the game for the win. Well done!
We must share the disappointment of Oneata Schwalga, and Vic Latu – late withdrawals to the squad understood to be injury based. This has made way for Danielle Meskell and Grace Hamilton. Also Veteran lock, Rebecca Clough is also out with a leg injury that was sustained in the mid-week warm up game against the Storm.
Quite clearly, all reports, from anyone even close to the team are of extreme excitement to be playing a double header with the Wallabies in a packed Eden Park.
To be honest I am just not familiar enough with the payers in both teams to talk through match ups, nor do we know the team selections yet. That said there may well be an advantage to the Black Ferns in the set piece – I suspect a weight advantage to the tight five and the Storm game may be a precursor of what to expect in the line out.
In the mean time let me introduce to a small number of the players and coaches who have caught my eye:
Scott Allen remember him? Now Assistant Coach to the Wallaroos, seems to be loving his time in the women’s game.
Louise Burrows (prop/hooker) at 38 years young has represented her country at no less than three Rugby World Cups. A stalwart of the team. Rested from the pre-test game she is fresh for the Black Ferns.
Danielle Meskell (prop) an evergreen but astonishing 43 years young, if your name is not Brad Thorn you are not worthy.
Molly Gray (no 8) Australian Defence Force, from the Sevens programme, rising star in the 2104 RWC now rusted on Wallaroo. Much of the news reporting are interviews with Molly.
Ash Hewson (fly half) has represented Australia in rugby, cricket, soccer, touch and athletics.
Cobie Jane Morgan (wing) at a diminutive 159cm and 57kg she is no new-comer to the rough and tumble of international rugby. Cobie has represented in Sevens as well as 15s, and touch. She played her first RWC in 2010.
Aldora Itunu (prop) at 110kg a member of the Auckland Storm since 2012 plays both sides of the scrum.
Kelly Brazier (HB/utility) transferred from the Silver medallist Sevens team.
Honey Hireme (utility back) aka “Honey Bill Williams” it is said she has the best fend in the game, fantastic offload and is a prolific try scorer.
Janna Vaughan (utility back). Tread carefully, has played league and represented NZ in the Muay Thai World Championships.
The Wallaroos are fundamentally looking to gain test experience and to settle nerves for the debutants. There is some serious experience who you think will try to direct a free flowing game.
If I’m right on the set piece, and reading the Storm game closely, a territory game may be the Black Fern intentions.
But it’s guess work. Both teams are on their first hit out for 2016.
Black Ferns are clear favourites. Head says NZ by 12 points. Prediction – let the upsets begin here!
Match: New Zealand Black Ferns v Buildcorp Wallaroos @ Eden Park, Auckland
Double header with All Blacks v Wallabies
Date: Saturday 22nd October 2016
1.Louise Burrows, 2.Ivy Kaleta*, 3.Hana Ngaha*, 4.Alisha Hewett, 5.Chloe Butler, 6.Mollie Gray, 7.Vesinia Schaaf-Tatufa*,8.Liz Patu, 9.Iliseva Batibasaga, 10.Ashleigh Hewson (c), 11.Shontelle Stowers*, 12.Hanna Sio, 13.Nareta Marsters*, 14.Cobie-Jane Morgan, 15.Sarah Riordan*,
16.Alanna Patison*, 17.Emily Robinson*, 18.Danielle Meskell, 19.Grace Hamilton*, 20.Kirby Sefo*, 21.Ariana Kaiwai*, 22.Katrina Barker*, 23.Cheyenne Campbell
1. Pip Love 2. Fiao’o Fa’amausili (c) 3. Aleisha Nelson 4. Eloise Blackwell 5. Charmaine Smith 6. Rawinia Everitt 7. Sarah Goss 8. Aroha Savage 9. Kendra Cocksedge 10. Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali 11. Renee Wickliffe 12. Chelsea Alley 13. Portia Woodman 14. Honey Hireme 15. Selica Winiata
16. Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate 17. Toka Natua (Aldora Itunu) 18. Aotearoa Mata’u* 19. Charlene Gubb 20. Charmaine McMenamin 21. Kristina Sue* 22. Kelly Brazier 23. Janna Vaughan