Wallaroos learning a lot from Pacific Four Series but still more to learn



The Wallaroos are over in New Zealand playing in the Pacific Four Series against New Zealand, Canada and the USA. This is part of World Rugby’s WXV initiative, the women’s global competition that commences next year.

The Wallaroos have really put up a fight in the first two games. Let us be honest, we were always up against it playing New Zealand, Canada and USA.

Some stats in an @ScrumQueens tweet pre series provides some context. The Wallaroos have played Canada three times, losing all three games and the USA five times, with one win back in 2002. Australia have played 19 Tests against New Zealand, which is one third of all Tests played, with no wins.

First up was New Zealand.

New Zealand was always going to be tough, their last outing in the UK they had multiple losses to England and France. Whilst they had seven debutants, they have a super coaching set up with Wayne Smith, Allan Bunting and Graham Henry.

During the game it was more than raining, as a commentator said, it was ‘hosing down’. In the first half the Wallaroos forwards really aimed up, had dominance in the set piece, particularly in the scrums. In reality, Australia had the possession but did not convert to points. Even so they went into half time with a 10-0 lead, the first time they had led at half time in 19 New Zealand games. In the end the Black Ferns lifted their game in the second half, especially once they replaced their whole front row. The Black Ferns came back and won 23-10.

But credit to the Wallaroos they gave the Black Ferns a fright.

What did the USA game show us?

Really, not sure. Both hooker Adiana Talakai and winger Ivania Wong who were injured in the Black Ferns game, were out injured which was a blow.

However, it did provide an opportunity to a couple of other players to assist in building some depth. On the flip side, the USA team had the return of nine of their players from the UK Premiership final, so they had their big guns back.

A pre-game highlight was having Sekope Kepu present the Wallaroos with their First Nations jerseys.

Back to the game. The first half was a battle, the USA had the wind, all the possession and territory but only went into half time with a 13-0 lead. Australia defended brilliantly.

(A general call out, the Australian teams have really upped their defensive efforts in recent times, in particular the Aussie sevens teams and the Waratahs as examples.)

The Wallaroos, when in possession, could not bend the line or get over the advantage line. Also the backline did not operate well against the USA rush defence. The second half was different. The Wallaroos ran with the wind, plus the bench made an impact. Probably the combination of Arabella McKenzie’s kicking game and the wind really helped. The Wallaroos fought back with a couple of tries and two excellent sideline conversions by Lori Cramer. In the end they went down 16-14.

It was a good effort by the Wallaroos but like the game against the Black Ferns they seem to do a lot of defence and have not been able to show much in attack. This week the game is against Canada who are ranked three in the world.

So how are the Wallaroos looking?

The front row seems competitive with Liz Patu providing some real grunt. Eva Karpani makes a big difference when she comes on. It is unfortunate that hooker Talakai is injured, not sure if she will be back for the Canadian game on Saturday.

The backrow is quality with Shannon Parry, Emily Chancellor, Grace Hamilton and, off the bench, Piper Duck. There must be thought to starting Duck based on her bench performances.

Shannon Parry of Australia charges forward during the 2022 Pacific Four Series match between New Zealand Black Ferns and Australia Wallaroos at Tauranga Domain on June 6, 2022 in Tauranga, New Zealand. (Photo by Andy Jackson/Getty Images)

The locks are good at set piece, run all day but probably just not block-busting enough. The collision has become part of the women’s game too, so you need to win the collisions.

Michaela Leonard and Kaitlan Leaney do a solid job, as has Annabelle Codey off the bench. However maybe it is worth adding to the bench youngster Grace Kemp, she is an aggressive runner and had a good season with Brumbies.

As with the forwards the backline is pretty solid but does not put the fear into you. An issue seems to be a lack of depth and maybe options. At halfback Layne Morgan, who comes off the bench, has really been showing development.

There is still discussion who is the best fly half. Trilleen Pomare has started both games with McKenzie taking over at 10 in the second half and really made a difference in the USA game.

In the centres Georgie Friedrichs has been excellent, a former sevens player, she just does everything well. The back three of Mahlia Murphy, Cramer and Jemima McCalman have not had the opportunity to show what they have. Cecilia Smith on debut coming off the bench was pretty impressive.

The series has been an excellent experience for the players and no doubt the coaching staff as they prepare for the World Cup in October. Hopefully a few more games can be arranged before it starts.