The Wallaroos put on their best display in years when they defeated France on the weekend.
It is the first time they have beaten a top three side and the last time they defeated France was at the 2010 World Cup. Fun fact: the coach at the time was current men’s sevens coach John Manenti.
As coach Jay Tregonning said, they wanted a fast start and they got that. In recent times they have played well for up to 60 minutes, on the weekend it was the full 80.
So what was different? A lot and not much.
A few issues stood out. The set piece especially the line out was significantly better, the handling was better so they could apply pressure and maybe most importantly they were seriously physical in the contact area.
Not surprisingly the Wallaroos seem to improve the longer they are together. Last year they also developed as the World Cup progressed. We will see if this continues to be the case when they face Wales on Friday.
There were improvements as a team and at the individual level. This week the set piece, in particular the line out, was solid, and they only lost three of 13 lineouts. A week earlier it was nine.
They also disrupted/ won five of the French lineouts.
The scrum held its own, with the Wallaroos winning all five.
A minor issue was they didn’t control the ball at the back of the scrum a couple of times which may just be a reflection of Kaitlan Leaney not having a lot of experience at No.8. But that is being a bit pedantic.
What was noticeable in the first half was the handling – only four handling errors – and discipline – conceding just two penalties. Last week at critical times when putting pressure on the opposition they dropped the ball or were turned over.
The defence was tough in contact, and they scrambled well. But the stats still indicated they missed 42 tackles, which was a surprise.
Of note was the strength of the goal line defence, there were a number of critical moments in the game where they held back the French. At one point the French even elected to take a penalty goal rather than kick for the corner again.
A component to any defence is turnovers and the Wallaroos won 10. It was not just Emily Chancellor but also Ivania Wong, Layne Morgan and Georgina Friedrichs got in on the action.
Obviously even in a team sport individuals step up. It is not possible to review every player, so who stood out. Probably the easiest option is to highlight which players had their best or one of their best games in Wallaroos gold.
There is no doubt Eva Karpani had her best game. Who cannot enjoy a rampaging tight head scoring three tries? Just as importantly her runs got the Wallaroos over the advantage line. Some rugby sevens background was also on show she was regularly getting up and regathering the ball when not held in the tackle.
Sera Naiqama had arguably her best game as well. She has always been a very solid player with her lineout work usually a mainstay. But she had her best game in terms of physicality in the contact zone.
Prop Brianna Hoy, at 23 and in only her second Test, shows no fear and constantly threw her body into tackles and on the loose ball. Most importantly she scrummed well, as did Bree-Anna Cheatham when she came on.
Siokapesi Palu has been a find and in only her second Test in the forwards. As she said in an article recently, she likes the collision and the physicality. That is the attitude needed for a No.6.
Rugby is a simple game. If your forwards provide a platform, it provides the opportunity for the backs. Like the forwards, all the backs had good games.
In the backline, fullback Faitala Moleka got a lot more involved. I have mentioned it before but for an 18 year old she has skills. Her left to right pass, in the first minute of the game, after straightening the attack to release Desiree Miller, got the Wallaroos field position. A minute later the Wallaroos scored. A sublime pass.
Carys Dallinger and Arabella McKenzie at No.10 and No.12 are combining well and it seems to be working. If one was again to be a bit pedantic, some of the up and under and chip kicking seemed a bit aimless at times, not enough chasers.
Both wingers, Wong and Desiree Miller had good games. Miller although not a big player and only 21 years old, looks more than comfortable at Test level. She was a proactive threat in attack and held her own in defence.
Morgan at half back has shown she can be a pest at scrum time. On a defensive French scrum, she disrupted the half at the back, got the possession and a few plays later the Wallaroos scored. She did the same in the England game as well. Her defence continues, as always, to be very good, even in the middle up against the big boppers.
Friedrichs is the rock in the backline. This was one of her best games with ball in hand.
Credit to the Wallaroos bench also. It plays such an important role. Both Atasi Lafai and Leilani Nathan provided a physical presence when they came on at the 60 minute mark.
After all that positivity and singing their praises, the Wallaroos just need to back it up on Friday against the Welsh. Send off coach Tregonning on a high and finish the season on a high. It is going to be another tough game, the Welsh, no doubt, will want revenge after the Wallaroos pipped them in the World Cup.