On Saturday, the Australian Wallaroos will finally commence their 2021 Women’s World Cup journey, after the postponement of the Cup last year due to COVID-19.
The Wallaroos will open the Tournament featuring in a triple header which will see England take on Fiji, France to play South Africa and then Australia play hosts New Zealand.
There has been tremendous build up to the event in New Zealand with organisers quietly confident that the opening night will be sold out. The venue seats 50,000 with 30,000 tickets already sold.
But what is a reasonable expectation of this Wallaroos side during this World Cup?
There is no doubt the team is full of talent. Sharni Williams will be part of the squad and this will be her fourth World Cup in the XV format. She is joined by veterans Shannon Parry and Grace Hamilton who is not only one of the best rugby players in the world, but has also shown her versatility when she competed in the National Women’s Rugby League Premiership in 2020 for the Sydney Roosters.
There are plenty of younger players to watch too including Bienne Terita who is just 19 years old and scored two tries in her Wallaroos debut against the Black Ferns in Adelaide.
But they have a tough pool in New Zealand, Scotland and Wales.
What has always been evident for me when watching the Wallaroos play is how much the team improves when they are given the opportunity to play together and to play consistent rugby (no surprises there).
Whilst Rugby Australia have worked hard over the last two years to give the Wallaroos more chance to play together, more needs to be done.
Take their performances against New Zealand in August this year. In their first game, the Wallaroos were comprehensively beaten 52-5. Shortly after, back on home soil, the Wallaroos lost once again but it was a much closer fixture with the result finishing 22-14.
If recent World Cups are an indicator, then expect to see the Wallaroos improve significantly as the Tournament progresses. In the 2014 Tournament the Wallaroos finished seventh and then ended the 2017 Tournament in sixth.
At the conclusion of this World Cup, no doubt it will be time to start looking forward and in particular towards 2029 when Australia will host the Women’s World Cup.
When it comes to home World Cups, Aussie fans always have expectations. Just ask the Australian Women’s Cricket team about how heavily the expectation weighed on them for their successful ICC T20 Women’s World Cup campaign on home soil. Watching the Australian Women throughout the Tournament, there seemed a real sense of nerves in the pool games.
It was only once the team reached the Finals that they truly seemed free to ‘release the shackles’ and just play cricket.
With Australia set to host the Women’s Rugby World Cup in 2029, it’s fair to say that there is plenty of work to do to ensure that the Wallaroos are given the best opportunity to succeed. This is not meant to be directed at the women who juggle elite sporting commitments, with work, education and family commitments, but instead directed towards the structures which these women operate in.
Rugby Australia has faced some challenges recently on a number of levels; financially and at a governance level. But I struggle to understand how this can be the code’s ‘aspiration’ when recent headlines suggested that Rugby Australia was willing to spend seven figures on securing the services of Joseph Suaalii for the Wallabies 2027 World Cup campaign. Whether that figure was inflated or not, it suggests that when it comes to the men’s game, Rugby Australia has deep pockets. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the women’s game.
Currently, only two of the Super W sides receive match payments (and I must praise the efforts of the NSW Waratahs and particularly, the Melbourne Rebels who have been leaders in this space), whilst the Wallaroos are paid for their time in camp.
The Australian Women’s 7s players are on full time contracts. The sad reality is that Rugby Australia is falling behind all the other major sporting codes.
The Australian Women’s Cricket Team are full time professional athletes. In the new CBA agreed between the AFL and AFL Players Association earlier this year across the board, average player salaries increased by 94 percent, with the minimum salary increasing to $39,184 per season up from $20,239 last year. The NRL is currently negotiating with the Rugby League Players Association and with the NRLW set to increase to 10 teams next year, a significant increase in pay is also expected there.
When pushed to put a deadline on professionalisation of the women’s game, CEO of Rugby Australia Andy Marinos said “we’ve got to work hard towards the 2025 World Cup in England”.
“We won’t be held to a timeline, but it’s a priority,” he said.
I think it’s about time we pushed Rugby Australia to be held to a timeline. If not for the next generation of women and girls who aspire to play rugby for their country, but also for the trailblazers and current crop of women who juggle so much just for the chance to represent their country.