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Opinion

Pacific Four series: The Wallaroos are heading in the right direction

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23rd June, 2022
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How miserable was the New Zealand weather?

It was either pouring with rain, blowing a gale or both. I hope the World Cup weather is better.

Grace Kemp debuting off the bench against Canada delivered as hoped. In fact it was above expectations. I am just praying rugby can keep her.

The Black Ferns are back. They won all three games and in the final match towelled up the USA 50-6, in the rain.

This annual World Rugby Pacific Four Series and the WXV global competition is now an integral part of the Wallaroos’ future and differentiates it in the crowded Australian women’s sports landscape.

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After a couple of years of no games, where are the Wallaroos?

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In blunt stats, there were three matches and three losses. This follows a loss to Japan after an initial win over Fiji.

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For the casual observer, this may come as a surprise. But in reality, that is not the case.

In rugby sevens, Australia are super fit, highly skilled and dominant. In 15s, the Wallaroos are a fair way behind the big dogs like England, France and New Zealand and behind the next tier of Canada and the USA.

So in the next little while we are probably battling with teams like Japan, Fiji, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. We will see at the World Cup, where Australia has Wales and Scotland in its pool.

This is not being negative or a doomsayer. But it does make it a testing time for women’s rugby in the highly competitive Australian sporting landscape.

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Shannon Parry of Australia charges forward during the 2022 Pacific Four Series match between New Zealand Black Ferns and Australia Wallaroos at Tauranga Domain on June 6, 2022 in Tauranga, New Zealand. (Photo by Andy Jackson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Andy Jackson/Getty Images)

Like it or not, they are wins that receive more interest from the media, eyeballs on the game and sponsors.

It is not the time to reflect on why the Wallaroos are where they are, but it is worth remembering that the Wallaroos were one of only two countries that didn’t tour the UK last year.

So what did we learn?

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The Wallaroos were more than competitive in each game, and in fact led at half time in two games.

You cannot question the effort of the Wallaroos’ players. They were just up against teams that are currently bigger and a bit better.

Seeing the emotion on the faces of the players after the games shows how important playing for the Wallaroos is and that the losses cut deep.

The defence of the players was extraordinary. It would be intriguing to see the tackle stats over the three games.

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In the Canadian game, the Wallaroos made 100 more tackles. One of the challenges for the Wallaroos, just like both men’s and women’s sevens teams and the Waratahs, is they just do not have the size.

As a consequence, all three games were tough on the forwards but they stuck to their tasks.

So how are the forwards looking?

Overall, they are solid. In saying that, the back row is very good. Grace Hamilton, Shannon Parry, Piper Duck, Emily Chancellor and now Grace Kemp deserve big ticks all around.

Grace Kemp debuted as all those in the know were hoping she would, with block-busting runs and big tackles.

The only downside is it probably means Emily Chancellor, who tucks in her jersey and has her socks pulled up, may not get too many starts as she is like for like with captain Shannon Parry.

The front row is always competitive, especially Eva Karpani when she comes off the bench. The issue, apart from Karpani, is size.

The hookers also seem to have that lineout-throwing problem. It was unfortunate hooker Adiana Talakai got injured in the first game.

The starting locks Michaela Leonard and Kaitlan Leaney always put in a great effort. They tackle well, are good at set piece and have good engines.

The only weakness is that they do not bend the line. Coming off the bench against Canada, Sera Naiqama put in one of her best efforts.

The back line is the most confusing.

Layne Morgan at half had her first start. She played well and probably could have tried having a run, but the weather was not that conducive.

Iliseva Batibasaga came off the bench and you always know what you will get: a quality performance. Those two are set to be the halfbacks for the World Cup.

Flyhalf is a challenge. Arabella McKenzie is probably the one.

Trilleen Pomare and Pauline Piliae-Rasabale play flyhalf but have also played at 12 to add another kicking and distribution option.

For her first run-on at 12, Cecilia Smith did a good job and you have to lock in Georgie Friedrichs at 13. The issue is neither of them have a real kicking game.

The back three is also confusing. Lori Cramer must be there. She is not big but has speed, tenacious defence, footy smarts and a kicking game, and she kicks goals.

Jemima McCalman had her best game against Canada. Mahlia Murphy must be there somewhere and then there is Ivania Wong, who was out injured for the last two games.

So in simple terms, I really have no idea what the best back-line combination is.

On a positive note, the Wallaroos have two more Tests to work out the best combinations. The negative is that the two Tests are against the New Zealand Black Ferns. But it is what it is.

The Wallaroos are heading in the right direction.

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