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WXV1 – Reading the Runes

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Australia and Wales

The sextet that makes up the elite group of the new WXV divides into two. Canada, England, France and New Zealand sit far ahead of Australia and Wales.

This split neatly mirrors their world rankings, 1-6, but the fear remains that even within those subdivisions wide gaps will appear when the tournament kicks off in October.

Let’s look first at the two outsiders, Wales and Australia.


Wales are simply delighted to find themselves seated at the top table. They have been through bad times over the past three or four seasons. Since the WRU started taking belated action, their prospects have risen sharply. They have twice finished third in the Six Nations, a distinct achievement when we consider the efforts put in by rival nations to improve their standing.

Those successes followed a period in which they finished sixth three times in four years. Things are looking up. Their job will be to convince themselves and their supporters that they have fully recovered from the physical and emotional bruisings they have suffered.

The structure of the tournament sees the three European nations playing off against the Black Ferns, the Maple Leafs and the Wallaroos. The big question is: how far can Wales advance? Unfortunately for them the game they are most likely to target comes last, against Australia in Auckland. Despite their ongoing lack of test matches the Wallaroos rank above Wales in fifth place.

The Welsh can hardly expect to register a first-ever win against the Black Ferns, and they have beaten the Maple Leafs only twice in eleven attempts. If they do, they can expect a national day of celebration in their honour.

Like the other Celtic nations they desperately need strong competition across all positions. Too often the loss of one player to injury means a palpable lowering of overall strength. The renown that young Sisilia Tuipulotu has acquired over the past two seasons is an indirect comment on the lack of more players of her quality.

The entire squad plays in England, thus ensuring that they are used to facing tough competition week by week. But the lack of a parallel competition in their homeland is a mark of the distance they have to travel.

Unlike the Australians (see below) they have an established full-time head coach in Ioan Cunningham. Compared with his opposite number, Jay Tregonning, he is in clover.

One remaining obstacle in his path is the presence of all his squad on the wrong side of the Severn Bridge.

Wales’ fixture card looks like this:

v Canada, 21 October, Sky Stadium Wellington
v New Zealand, 28 October, Forsyth Barr Stadium Dunedin
v Australia, Go Media Stadium, Mt Smart, South Auckland


The Wallaroos struggle. Their union, RA, have long prioritised Sevens as the quickest and most productive road to success. In turn this has meant putting the long-format game on the back-burner. Time after time the Wallaroos have assembled at the last moment before a major tournament to prove what an outstanding sporting nation they are.

The deciding game for them this year was against the USA. They beat them decisively, sending the Eagles into the unwelcome arms of WXV2.

Their world ranking of No 5, one place ahead of Wales, is utterly remarkable when we consider the hurdles they have to overcome.

For a start Tregonning, their head coach, is a part-time appointment; by profession he is a teacher. We could ask other officials in a similar post how they would manage if they had to hold down a full-time job while tending to the multiple needs of a semi-professional squad of 30+.

They have gone down to heavy defeats to NZ and Canada (7-45) in the Pacific-4 series. Their game has been characterised by large numbers of penalties, wrong options, missed tackles and turnovers. To me these are all a sign of lack of exposure tor regular high-level competition. Recent efforts under the banner SuperW could in no way hope to match the levels reached in France and England with their elite leagues.

It’s their misfortune to have as their sole near neighbours the Black Ferns, who beat them time after time in O’Reilly Cup matches. Tests against nations further afield are rare, though RA has signed an agreement with Japan to work closely with them at all levels. But the Sakura are not yet able to reach the top bracket; Simon Middleton is now helping Lesley McKenzie to jump that last hurdle.

We have only to compare two recent results to see what the Wallaroos could achieve with more active support from their union:

Australia 0 New Zealand 50
Australia 50 USA 17