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The big Wallaroos issue Canada exposed - and how they're going to fix it in a high-stakes battle against the USA

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3 days ago
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After last weekend, coach Yapp and the players have a few things to address for the USA game on Friday. All Tests are important, but this one has a bit more to it. A win would get the Wallaroos into World Rugby’s top-tier tournament WXV 1 later in the year and qualify for next year’s World Cup. No pressure.

The game may be a bit spicy with the Wallaroos’ former assistant coach Sione Fukofuka now head coach of the USA. Adding to that, the Wallaroos put on a lot of points the last time they met the USA, and the Americans will want some redemption. And for even more excitement, coach Yapp has selected a couple of teenagers to the spine – Samanatha Wood at half and Caitlyn Halse at fullback. Of course, there is nothing as exciting as seeing tighthead Eva Karpani start for the Wallaroos.

As an aside, both coaches are looking for their first win so there are plenty of reasons to watch.

A quick overview of last weekend

In simple terms, the Wallaroos were bossed around from the first whistle. The issue was just how much bossing that was going around. The game confirmed what we knew, Canada are very good. The test last weekend for the Wallaroos was matching the Canadian forwards’ physicality. The Canadians hit the ground running and rolled over the advantage line way too easily.

Surprisingly, the Wallaroos scrum was pretty poor – like Wallabies 2005 against England with Andrew Sheridan kind of poor. Ugly. They only won five of their nine scrums, 55 per cent. It is difficult to recall the last time the scrum was under so much pressure. In the front-row stocks, the Wallaroos are missing Bree-Anna Cheatham and Adiana Talakai, both recovering from ACLs. Both either started or came off the bench in every Test last season.

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The forwards did not make it easy for themselves either, a lot of dropped ball. Sure it was wet but the dropped balls and a poor scrum were not a great combination.

While the Australians made almost twice as many tackles, the Canadians missed more tackles. On a positive note, the Australian women made more clean breaks and beat more defenders. That was reflective of how well the backs played with ball in hand.

On the flip side, Arabella McKenzie lost the kicking duel, so there’s a bit of a work needed there.

It is worth providing some context. It was the Wallaroos’ first game of the season, whereas last year they played the Fijiana before their first Pacific Four Series match. The Wallaroos have a new coaching group who are no doubt putting in new structures. They only had eight days of preparation together. It is going to take time to nail down how they want to play.

While past performance is no indication of future performance, in recent times the Wallaroos have favoured working their way into the season. Last Test season, their best games were the last two against France and Wales. Similarly in 2022, their performance improved significantly towards the end of the World Cup.

Next up, the Stars and Stripes

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The Wallaroos have played the USA seven times, the first in 1997. Australia only achieved their first win last year. It was a seriously good win 58-17. But let’s not get too excited.

The USA have had big losses recently to Canada and New Zealand and given the Wallaroos shellacking last time they met, the Americans will be desperately looking for a revenge win. And like Australia, a win would qualify the USA for World Rugby’s WXV 1 tournament and the World Cup.

For both teams, it is all to play for.

When USA coach Sione Fukofuka took over, he emphasised that the USA needed to focus on their natural strengths which are their athleticism and physicality; a similar approach their Sevens team possesses. The Wallaroos can expect another forwards battle. It always seems to be the go-to against Australian rugby teams: try and out-physical them (i.e., win the collisions). It is worth noting the USA matched the Canadian forwards in the first half of their match.

Coach Jo Yapp has made a couple of changes for the USA game.

The four changes: Eva Karpani starts, 5:3 bench, youngsters start at half and full back.

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After the Canada loss, starting with Karpani was pretty much a no-brainer. She did start in all eight Tests last season. The Wallaroos cannot have the scrum pushed around again. The USA have a highly experienced front row which includes prop Hope Rogers with 45 caps. Hopefully, Karpani can also repeat her double from the last time she played the USA.

Reverting to a traditional 5:3 bench for this game has allowed the opportunity to start young fullback Caitlyn Halse and have Lori Cramer on the bench. A lot has been said about Halse’s age but this year she has played well above her age for the Waratahs. She is a smart player. The challenge will be Test rugby is quicker in terms of the speed of the game and also decision-making.

Starting 19-year-old Samantha Wood at half back was a bit of a surprise. Layne Morgan has been playing very well. It appears Wood’s kicking was important with Cramer on the bench. Wood was a standout for the Force all season and she will have her Force teammates Michaela Leonard and Trilleen Pomare alongside her.

My gut feeling: the Wallaroos forwards are going to step up the physicality. Ashley Marsters was a little quiet last week so expect her to have a big game.

All in all, it should be a close and tough tussle in Melbourne with a lot to play for.

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If you cannot get to the game it is on Stan at 4.55pm AEST Friday 17 May.

Wallaroos
1. Brianna Hoy (NSW Waratahs) – 4 caps
2. Tania Naden (ACT Brumbies) – 11 caps
3. Eva Karpani (NSW Waratahs) – 22 caps
4. Kaitlan Leaney (NSW Waratahs) – 16 caps
5. Michaela Leonard (c) (Western Force) – 23 caps
6. Siokapesi Palu (ACT Brumbies) – 7 caps
7. Ashley Marsters (Melbourne Rebels) – 27 caps
8. Piper Duck (NSW Waratahs) – 11 caps
9. Samantha Wood (Western Force) – 1 cap
10. Arabella McKenzie (NSW Waratahs) – 22 caps
11. Desiree Miller (NSW Waratahs) – 3 caps
12. Trilleen Pomare (Western Force) – 25 caps
13. Georgina Friedrichs (NSW Waratahs) – 20 caps
14. Maya Stewart (NSW Waratahs) – 9 caps
15. Caitlyn Halse (NSW Waratahs) – debut

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Reserves
16. Hera-Barb Malcolm Heke (Western Force) – 1 cap
17. Sally Fuesaina (ACT Brumbies) – 1 cap
18. Bridie O’Gorman (NSW Waratahs) – 18 caps
19. Atasi Lafai (NSW Waratahs) – 10 caps
20. Leilani Nathan (NSW Waratahs) – 3 caps
21. Layne Morgan (NSW Waratahs) – 20 caps
22. Faitala Moleka (ACT Brumbies) – 7 caps
23. Lori Cramer (Queensland Reds) – 20 caps

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