‘Must win’: Canada’s victory exposed two key issues in Jo Yapp’s side – but also a roadmap to address them in vital USA clash


Tonight’s match against the USA will be the most important test match of the 2024 calendar year for the Wallaroos, no matter where they land. 

Getting the first test match out of the way is always important for any new era, but in the case of Jo Yapp’s side, it felt like more was at stake than usual.

Decent money and investment are finally coming into the program, promising form in the Super Rugby Women’s campaign, and aspirations to make WXV1 and be a top-four side in the world – it loomed as an ideal opportunity to notch up a first-ever win over fourth-ranked Canada.

Canada, however, had other ideas. In doing so, they exposed the Wallaroos in two key ways – and it looks evident Jo Yapp will be aiming to address these come their match tonight. 

Full credit to them, they played a well-structured and disciplined game to deliver a deserved win and set up a likely decider for the title with the Black Ferns in their final game.

Despite it being the Wallaroos’ best result against the Maple Leafs so far, the result does set a standard around how far the Aussie program has to go – many of those Canadian players are well-established in the European leagues, and have had more time under their feet with a demolition of the United States in Carson also showed. 

However, it should be noted that there were many positives for the Wallaroos – physicality and defence improved after a brutal opening quarter, and there were flashes of great potential and pressure in the forwards that resulted in two tries for their efforts (nothing to be sniffed at against a good Canadian pack), and when they spun the ball wide, the backline was always making inroads, asking questions, and looking dangerous.

Add to that, the bench also performed well, with Samantha Wood adding significant unpredictability in scrum half and Eva Karpani giving us some crucial go-forward.

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It’s a reflection that the final hour of the match felt more like an arm-wrestle, with the Canadians coming out only slightly ahead with two tries to three in that period – it’s just a shame that the eventual winning margin was decided in the first twenty minutes. 

As alluded to in yesterday’s piece, Canada’s forward pack gave a masterclass in mauling and pressure, and their focus on a well-drilled set piece won them the game. 

While the backlines looked equally measured, the pressure the Canadian pack were able to press felt like a tidal wave for the likes of Bridie O’Gorman, especially in general play and at scrum time. 

While the Wallaroos traditionally have not had a bad scrum, even when coming up against a well-drilled side like Canada, the set piece significantly underperformed under pressure. 

This also led to the second key issue, one that looms as the more concerning of the two – decision-making.

Whether it be due to a combination of new game plans and structures, first time on the paddock, or Canadian pressure, there were key moments where the Wallaroos felt like they lacked clear strategy, almost taking pause in decision-making and looking for leaders to direct them around the park. 

This was particularly notable when the likes of skipper Michaela Leonard were pulled, with Ashley Marsters left as the key veteran to see out the game. 

The hesitation around decision-making resulted in a lot of drop ball and a lack of go-forward, and a lot more pressure on Arabella McKenzie to try and make something with the kicking game. Unfortunately, coming up against a side that has several good kickers, switching the point of attack in that regard was always going to be tough. 

However, Yapp’s decision to shift the squad around for the US clash is a bold one and looks directly focused on trying to address the forward pack physicality issues. While there is a risk in starting Eva Karpani, her explosivity is undeniable and will be needed. 

This USA clash looms as probably the most crucial one for the year for the women in gold – a win here locks up a guaranteed third-placed finish even before their clash with New Zealand, and qualification for the WXV1 tournament later this year in Canada. 

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – MAY 11: Canada celebrate a try by McKinley Hunt during the 2024 Pacific Four Series match between Australian Wallaroos and Canada at Allianz Stadium on May 11, 2024 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brett Hemmings – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

What is needed right now is a performance to steady the ship, a clear opening win for the players, Yapp and her team. Should the Wallaroos win the physical contest early, they’ll likely take a massive step forward to addressing the challenges of cohesion and tactical decision-making under pressure.

Positive experiences together breed positive results, such as seen in the WXV1 campaign last year against France and Wales. Right now, it is in Wallaroos’ best interest to maintain their spot in the top level of the competition – and would line them up for fixtures against England, France and Ireland, the latter two would be achievable matches to target and significant scalps for their progression. 

While England may be a bridge too far right now, playing against them regularly – or indeed, going over to Europe and playing with them – is also a vital experience to build on. Despite not being World Cup champions, their clean sweep of WXV1 last year does show them as the women’s team to beat.

However, a loss would see the Wallaroos finish in last and drop down to WXV2, to be played in South Africa. While Scotland, Italy, the hosts and Wales/Spain will be tough contenders, it would be a significant shift in focus for Jo Yapp and her team, and an underperformance of the side. 

Piper Duck of the Wallaroos interacts with fans after the 2024 Pacific Four Series match between Australian Wallaroos and Canada at Allianz Stadium on May 11, 2024 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Essentially, the Wallaroos have to win tonight in Melbourne. Yapp is a quality coach, and a full week will have been sorely needed. It is expected the Wallaroos will be much improved and be favourites for this match.

However, should they address their physicality and decision-making as comprehensively against the US, then there is a lot more to be excited about if you are a new fan – the makings of a side that can reach their goal of being a top-four side ahead of the 2025 World Cup. 

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