Wallaroos 2023 review: Cohesion helps team to on-field success as off-field struggles are being addressed
The WXV Tier 1 tournament finished on a high for the Wallaroos with a gutsy win 25-19 over Wales. The weekend also saw Canada defeat France in a bit of a surprise and, in the clash of the Titans, England defeated New Zealand. All three games lived up to expectations except the England win was a lot bigger than most would have expected. England took out the tournament being undefeated.
Apart from the wins, a highlight for the Wallaroos in this WXV tournament was finishing third above New Zealand and France on the table. Not many outside the team would have seen that coming.
The Wallaroos season review
It was an interesting, intriguing and exciting season for the Wallaroos both on and off the field.
On the field:
The final two wins over France and Wales turned what would have been called a tough season with some big losses into a successful season. The Wallaroos had four wins out of eight games. It is worth noting eight matches is the most matches the Wallaroos have had in a season outside of last year’s World Cup year.
The Wallaroos season is always a bit of a start stop affair over the last six months. The season started in May against the Fijiana, a month off, then three games in June/July for the Pacific Four Series in Canada. Then two more months off, another match against the Kiwis, then three matches in October/ November to round out the season in the inaugural WXV Tier 1 tournament.
Cohesion is a term regularly highlighted and the Wallaroos had in bucket loads. Of the 23 players in the Welsh game, 17 played in the first game against Fijiana. (Noting Emily Chancellor, Anabelle McKenzie, Kaitlan Leaney and Lori Cramer had yet to return from their UK stint for the first game of the season.)
One of the concerns for the Wallaroos has always been depth. Under coach Jay Tregonning one of his legacies has been the number of players that debuted under his tenure. This has been highlighted by the strength of the bench when they come on in games.
While the Wallaroos could get into the grind they also attempted to play and played an expansive game. There was always the potential in the back line, in the last two games the women put on some terrific tries.
Obviously it is not possible to review all the players but the player who really made a huge difference in the last two games was Eva Karpani. She scored three tries against France and the game changing-try against Wales.
It has always been known she is potentially a star even from as far back playing for the Adelaide team in the AON Sevens.
Interestingly when asked after her player of the match performance what had changed she replied ‘fitness’. No real surprise, more time together, more training results in improved performance. Karpani’s value equates to what we all know the tighthead prop is the most important player in the team.
The on field season review cannot be complete without a mention of stand-in captain Michaela Leonard. She was an absolute stand out on the field in the way she plays and leads the team.
Similarly Jay Tregonning who has finished up as the Wallaroos coach deserves many thanks for all his efforts and the team’s success. There were no doubt some tough times and tough losses over the last couple of years.
Off the field:
Off the field was a mixed bag. The year started with some great progress with the announcement at Kirribili House of Rugby Australia’s $2 million investment in women’s rugby. This included the introduction of central part-time contracts for the Wallaroos. This saw a list of up to 35 players in 2023. It also saw Super W players receive a payment from RA, with further payments to coming from the Super clubs.
The discussion continues for more investment but currently Rugby AU is financially challenged. The players recognise this too. So whilst not comparable to the big teams like England and New Zealand or AFLW and NRLW, it is a start.
The performance of the women this season no doubt supported RA’s decision to invest and what the future could look like.
In the latter part of the season the players publicly raised a range of concerns and issues they had via posting their concerns on social media platforms. Whilst it was unfortunate that the players felt they needed to do that it was a significant indicator that they were not happy with how they were being treated by RA.
Interestingly it appeared an issue was the lack of recognition they were receiving from RA and were not seen to being valued. While RA still has a long way to crack the mainstream media, credit where it is due it has upped it social media content creation 1000 per cent.
The Wallaroos’ Instagram account following has increased by 25 per cent in the last five months. Still a way to go to most of the other national teams but again it is a good start.
It would be remiss not to mention the work done by the RA communications team. They produced a huge number of articles not just on the games but also profiling players. One thing the last few weeks has highlighted is the opportunity RA has next year to profile players more broadly, outside the traditional rugby fan bubble. The Wallaroos are full of very articulate players and a few with great personalities such as Maya Stewart and Lori Cramer to name two.
It should also be mentioned that Phil Waugh, just back from France, and a lot on his plate did make the trip to New Zealand to watch the Wallaroos play Wales. Some will say that is his job and he should attend, but in light of all the major issues coming out of the Wallabies World Cup campaign it could have been a reason not to attend. From the players perspective it must have been a bit of recognition. It was especially important with Eddie Jones’ comments that the Wallaroos were not a priority for him.
Some other good news in 2023
– Rugby AU appointed a full-time women’s High Performance Manager Jaime Fernandez as part of World Rugby’s Accelerate program.
– The Wallaroos coaching role will be a full-time from next year.
– Western Force have announced Dylan Pat as their full time Super W coach. A first in the Super W.
– NSW Waratahs have recently announced Michael Ruthven as the new Head Coach of the NSW Waratah Women’s side and the Director of Women’s High Performance.
– While unfortunately the Super W competition is not expanding next season RA is introducing a women’s Super Rugby U19s competition.
So the Wallaroos season is now done. It has been a good season.
Wallaroos season results
WXV Tier 1 tournament
Australia 25 vs 19 Wales
France 20 vs 29 Australia
England 42 vs 7 Australia
Laurie O’Reilly Cup
New Zealand 43 vs 3 Australia
Pacific Four Series
Canada 45 vs 7 Australia
Australia 58 vs 17 USA
Australia 0 vs 50 New Zealand
Australia 22 vs 5 Fiji