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The Roar


The Wallaroos' new coach is a trailblazer in Australian sport - but she doesn't want to be known as that

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19th February, 2024

Jo Yapp hasn’t leapt into the Wallaroos head coaching role trying to be a trailblazer, but if she can change the way female coaches are perceived by lifting the profile of the sport at the same time, the former England captain is more than happy to play her part.

“I don’t really think of it from that perspective,” Yapp told reporters in Sydney on Monday.

“For me, the best coach is the best coach whether that’s male or female.

“But I also understand that I have got a role in terms of being a role model and seeing that there are opportunities for other coaches to come forward and to coach at an international level and also within Australia itself.

“More people can see that it’s the same as playing, in terms of being able to go, ‘right, that female was able to break through’ because I think quite often as females, we undersell ourselves.

“We’ll see a job and just think, ‘Oh, maybe I haven’t got the experience for that’.

“But actually you have got the same level of experience.

“So recognising that and actually giving people an opportunity is really important.


“Later, down the line, you’ll probably see more international (female) coaches because they’re starting to get those opportunities.”

Jo Yapp says she wants to lead the Wallaroos into the top four. Photo: Rugby Australia

More pressing for Yapp is to get Australian women’s rugby up to speed.

While Australia’s women’s sevens program has largely been the envy of the world, the 15s program has been left alone. Until now.

Not only did Rugby Australia’s boss Phil Waugh appoint former Olympic rower turned high performance guru Jaime Fernandez to the role last August, the governing body also chose to appoint a full-time Wallaroos coach for the first time after having their heads buried in the sand for too long.

“I think there’s been a shift by World Rugby and by other nations to go deeper into 15-a-side and we’ve probably been a little bit slow in catching up to that.” Waugh admitted. “We’re certainly playing catch up to England, France and New Zealand.

“If we want to go deep into ’29 [the home women’s Rugby World Cup], you’ve got to invest now otherwise it’ll be too late and even now we’re certainly up against it for time to ensure that we continue to invest, which is why the appointment of Jo full-time leading the program and that investment in our athletes to give them the appropriate resources to go hopefully go deep in ’29 [is essential].”


Even before the recent investment, the Wallaroos program was showing promising signs.

The women in gold pushed the Black Ferns in their World Cup opener in 2022, before finishing last year’s Test calendar with consecutive wins over France and Wales.

It’s partly why Yapp opted to jump at the chance to take over from Jay Tregonning.

“It’s kind of the next step for me in terms of going into international sport,” Yapp, the 70-Test England halfback, said.

“That opportunity with a side that is so forward-thinking at the moment was just a massive opportunity.


“The Wallaroos have done so well for so long despite not having a huge amount of resources, so now to see how they can kick on when they’ve got that support is really exciting.”

Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh with new Wallaroos coach Jo Yapp. Photo: Rugby Australia

Yapp, who captained England to the 2006 World Cup final, has set her sights on leading the Wallaroos into the top four and identified two areas – strength and conditioning, and game understanding – the side can make huge strides.

“Those top teams are ahead of us in terms of how long those players have been full time,” she said.

“The other nations like France, New Zealand, England, they’ve got a huge history in terms of the players starting at a young age into the game of fifteens and actually, in the Wallaroos squad, some of the players come a little bit later from other areas. So there’s a good piece of work that we can do on that game understanding.”

If the Wallaroos can find their feet and success, the crowds coming out of England suggest rugby in Australia can find a new heartbeat.

Indeed, it was less than a year ago 60,000 fans turned up to watch England’s Red Roses take on Ireland at Twickenham.


Yapp said investing in the sport and allowing people to watch it, as well as taking the national side across the country in England, was important in seeing the popularity of rugby rise across Britain.

“The premiership was really big for that in terms of every weekend now there’s a game streamed on TV, so that helped to grow the audience over there,” she said.

“But also the success that they’ve had has helped with that. This has been like a long progress.

“They also went out to a lot of other areas of the country. With the World Cup, it’s all in different parts. So in terms of then trying to grow the crowds, there was a game hosted at Worcester, so the community really pushed that there. Then there was a game at Northampton and the community really pushed that there and, if you can get those crowds to come to Twickenham, then you get 60,000.”

Yapp said in due time she would address her bosses about the need to expand Super W.

“I think that’s one of the things that we need to look at,” she said.

The 44-year-old was at home when the phone went with the news RA wanted her as their next Wallaroos coach.


With her husband on board, next on the agenda was speaking to her 12-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son.

Neither needed much convincing, but for Yapp, who had developed a fine reputation coaching over the previous decade at both the international level and English Premiership, it was imperative they were on board.

“It had been a really emotional time,” Yapp later told The Roar.

“The Worcester thing hurt because it was my club as a player as well as a coach. I played all my rugby there.

“The emotions were all over the place. From us as a family perspective, it’s like, ‘wow, this is amazing.’ My kids love their rugby, so they were super proud. It was that real excitement, but also this is quite something as well. It’s kind of just trying to make things as simple for them, so I can do the role.

“Once I’m in, I’m all in, and I need their support, because they’re the most important people in the world to me, so having their backing was massive.”

Kaitlan Leaney celebrates following the Wallaroos’ win over France at Forsyth Barr Stadium on October 28, 2023 in Dunedin. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)


Yapp said creating a family environment at the Wallaroos was important for her.

“Both [of my children] were massively involved with me at Worcester,” she said.

“They loved being around the players, loved being around those role models, so they were fully into that and to be able to bring them out and experience it, I can’t wait for them to meet the players.

“I think that’s an important part of it in terms of when you’re going into such a tough couple of years with time away, being able to connect families within the Wallabies and staff is important because you need that support.”

So what would she say to other parents and young boys and girls thinking about playing rugby?

“I love it for the camaraderie,” Yapp said.


“We moved from Exeter to home, which is Clee Hill, my husband and I started the mini rugby club there to save us from travelling and we grew it and now we have loads of volunteers. It was a massive opportunity for them to meet people and engage people.

“The camaraderie you get from rugby and seeing them grow in confidence, as well as all the physical benefits, are great.”