The Australian-based Super W squads were announced on Tuesday with some big name Wallaroos returning to action Down Under. Wallaroos representatives Arabella McKenzie, Kaitlan…
Next week is the start of the ninth World Rugby women’s World Cup. With past tournaments having been held in Wales, Scotland, the Netherlands, Spain, Canada, England, France and Ireland it’s now time fo the first-ever southern hemisphere World Cup, with New Zealand set to host.
In reality we don’t know much about the Wallaroos, and finding information about them is pretty difficult. A quick search could not even find a list of past Wallaroos players, so I’m not even sure how many have represented Australia. For those interested, the best database about the Wallaroos’ Test history is on the UK-based website Scrum Queens.
So what do we know? In 1992 the first National Women’s Tournament was held in Newcastle, and the following year the Australian Women’s Rugby Union (AWRU) selected the name ‘Wallaroos’ for the newly formed Australian women’s team.
It is just over 28 years since the Wallaroos played their first Test in September 1994 against New Zealand. It was not a great start, with the Aussies going down 37-0. The Wallaroos got their first win during their first World Cup appearance in 1998 via a 21-0 win over Ireland, but it should be noted they played onlyfour Tests between 1994 and 1998, so their first win came in their fifth Test.
The Wallaroos’ rugby journey is an odd one. Maybe it’s most accurately described as a part-time journey. Over the last 28 years there have been 11 years during which they did not play a Test and there was not even a coach appointed. They did not play a Test in 1999, 2000, 2003-05, 2011-13, 2016 and obviously in recent COVID times of 2020-21.
A bit like the current environment, the Wallaroos just had to hang in there. For example, back in 2002 the Wallaroos lost their Australian Rugby Union (ARU) funding when they were downgraded from an elite program to a community rugby unit alongside school development. They did not play Tests again until the next World Cup in 2006. In some ways it looks like the Wallaroos did not really play between World Cups.
Despite this, many of the players have a genuine passion for rugby and probably deserve a bit more recognition. While not playing a lot of Tests, many have played for a long time. For example, Sharni Williams and captain Shannon Parry are heading to their fourth World Cup. Similarly, Iliseva Batibasaga and Liz Patu are heading to their third. At the recent Wallaroos World Cup farewell at Luna Park before heading to New Zealand they had speaking former Wallaroo No. 7 and captain Selena Tranter, who played from 1994 until 2009, including in three World Cups.
In the 17 actual Test-playing years there have been 13 Wallaroos captains. In most cases appointments have usually been for a year, although there was an exception: Cheryl McAfee (nee Soo) was captain from 2006 until 2010.
Since that first Test in 1994 the Wallaroos have played 62 Tests. Over a third were against New Zealand, and they are yet to get a win. Of the 62 Tests, the Wallaroos have had just 20 wins. On the flip side, England have played over 295 Tests and won 251 matches. Our New Zealand neighbours have played 112 matches and won 95.
World Cup history
The Wallaroos’ first World Cup was in 1998. Currently they’re ranked seventh, which is pretty accurate. In World Cups they usually get to the quarter-finals and have finished between fifth and seventh. The one exception was in 2010, when the John Manenti-coached Wallaroos finished third, their best ever result.
This year has seen the Wallaroos play seven Tests plus a Super W competition that included the Fijiana Drua, which has given coach Jay Tregonning a good look at the players. For those with a longer memory, one of the assistant coaches is former Wallaby Scott Fava.
The Wallaroos squad for the World Cup is a good mix of youth and experience. On the one hand you have old heads such as Iliseva Batibasaga (37), Sharni Williams (34), Liz Patu (33) and Shannon Parry (32). On the other hand you have sevens player Bienne Terita (19) and in the back row Piper Duck (19) and Grace Kemp (20). There are only two uncapped players in the squad, with Patu at the other end of the spectrum with 28 caps.
As expected, the squad is predominantly made of Waratahs players, but there are representatives from the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels too.
As they do in every Test and every World Cup, they will be in there giving it their best shot, so keep an eye out once thee tournament begins on 8 October..
Just for interest
Last year the first Wallaroos player was Inducted into the World Rugby hall of fame: Cheryl McAfee. She captained the Wallaroos and was also the captain of the women’s team that won the first Rugby World Cup Sevens in 2009. She also played an integral part on behalf of World Rugby in having rugby sevens included in the Olympics.