Back in 1996, there was huge excitement when rugby went professional and Super Rugby and the Tri-Nations tournaments began.
My dad has tickets for the Bledisloe Cup tomorrow night at ANZ Stadium.
When he looked at the event information he noticed though that there wasn’t just one game of rugby happening, but two. He then called me to ask whether he should go to ANZ Stadium early to watch the Australian Wallaroos in their first game in a two-Test series against the Black Ferns.
My response to him was ‘absolutely’.
Tomorrow night is a big night for Australian rugby. The Wallaroos will play in a double header match alongside the Wallabies for the first time on Australian soil. This will also be the Wallaroos’ 50th Test match.
The 28-woman squad features a mix of veterans such as Samantha Treherne, Cobie-Jane Morgan, Rebecca Clough, Mahalia Murphy and Grace Hamilton, alongside 13 players who will represent their country for the first time like Mhicca Carter, Melissa Fatu, Fi Jones, Georgia O’Neill, Shanice Parker and Alice Tonumaivao.
One notable omission from this squad is Mollie Gray. Gray had to retire earlier this year after doing her ACL last year during the Women’s Rugby World Cup.
I’m not going to lie. This is going to be a really tough game for the Wallaroos. In June last year when these two teams met in Christchurch, the Wallaroos lost 44-17 and the Wallaroos have had little to no match practice as a team since that game.
If it wasn’t hard enough, former Black Ferns captain Fiao’o Faamausili has also come out of retirement to lead New Zealand into this game alongside vice captains Kendra Cocksedge and Selica Winiata. Between them, these three women share 125 caps alone.
With the Wallaroos facing a big challenge it is even more important for people at home and people attending the game to go early to cheer them on.
At the moment, the Wallaroos are not professional and have been able to compete over the years largely thanks to the amazing support of organisations like Buildcorp and women like Josephine Sukkar.
Heading into this Test series, the squad did not get together in person until quite late. Prior to that players were part of satellite training sessions across the country, linked with their various state High Performances coaches.
They juggled their training for these Tests along with their club rugby commitments.
When the success of women in rugby is discussed, much of the focus is on our World Champion Australian 7s team. After winning gold at the Olympic Games at Rio, the women in this team have been celebrated and are testament to what can happen in women’s sport when athletes are treated and paid like professionals.
But we still have plenty of work to do in the XV space.
That work has started with the Super W launched at the start of this year with five teams from across Australia.
The quality of the tournament was up and down (which is to be expected considering how quickly the announcement was made and how little time the teams had together to prepare). However, the final between the NSW Women and Queensland Women was an outstanding advertisement for women’s rugby with the NSW Women winning 16-13 after their captain Ash Hewson kicked the winning penalty in the 92nd minute.
The competition will only get better in its next instalment next year and as additional resources are put into growing women’s rugby at a grassroots level so an established pathway can develop.
If we want to do our part to ensure additional resources devoted to the women’s game then we as spectators need to get our bottoms on seat and show Rugby Australia that there is an interest in this space. Asking for more for women’s sport is not useful if these words are not backed up with action.
This Test series is vitally important and hopefully is a taste of things to come, with the Wallaroos being given the opportunity to play more Test rugby alongside the Wallabies and play more frequently together. It is only when they are given that opportunity that we will see the quality of the game continue to improve dramatically.
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The other game changer for women’s rugby though came via an announcement from the Australian Government last week who demonstrated their commitment to Rugby Australia’s commitment to bid for the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup.
The Australian Government has pledged $300,000 to support Rugby Australia’s bid which has the potential to be a real game changer for women’s rugby in this country. The bid was submitted with World Rugby last Friday and will see the Newcastle and Hunter region host the tournament.
Matches will be played at Maitland #1 Sportsground and Newcastle Sportsground No 2 with the final to be held at McDonald Jones Stadium.
If Australia’s bid is successful, Australia would become the first country in the southern hemisphere to host the Women’s Rugby World Cup and would see the Wallaroos play games against New Zealand, England and France across six weeks.
But to start with, let’s show the Wallaroos that they have their support. You never know, there may be an upset on the cards.