Source: Worcester Warriors

Jo Yapp’s fortunes change dramatically

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In the early hours of this morning Rugby Australia announced the appointment of the former Worcester Warriors’ head coach, Jo Yapp as the first ever full-time coach of the Wallaroos.

All Warriors’ players and staff, whether still in Worcester or elsewhere, will be overjoyed at the news.

It confirms the view that every black cloud has a silver lining.

Yapp was dealt the unkindest of blows when Cube International suddenly announced it was removing its support from Warriors just before the launch of the new PWR league in November this year.

She had had to work miracles to keep the club afloat as funding disappeared in the most testing circumstances. Unlike Wasps, who were subjected to similar life-threatening demise, she succeeded in keeping her squad together for a long while.

Now she can look forward to less taxing times, we must hope.

England Career

She was only 18 when she was picked out for promotion to the England World Cup squad of 1998; by 2006 she was the national captain. In later years she coached the England Under 20 side to a series of telling victories.

Valkyries, later Warriors

They got off to a numbing start in the Premier 15s, when it launched in 2017. For a year and a half they remained without a win. Then Yapp was brought to her old club as skills coach. In no time she advanced to head coach. The club’s toils continued, but in 2022-23 they finished at an all-time high of sixth. The current season looked promising, then came the guillotine. Everyone at Sixways was distraught.

Graham Smith, distinguished ex-England coach, believes Yapp did not wish to offer herself for the top job when Simon Matthews announced his retirement. With Warriors in their then state, that would have been the honourable decision. Had they been blooming, as their original owner, Cecil Duckworth, would have wished, would she have come to the same decision?

A tribute to Tregonning

Jo replaces Jay Tregonning, who has seen the Wallaroos through to their most powerful position for many years.

Rugby Australia’s long-held policy has been to favour 7s over 15s. The squad has just won the Cape Town 7s to confirm their dominance. But it has come at a huge cost: the little cash RA has at its disposal has gone in large measure to the Olympic champions, leaving the Wallaroos 15s to fend largely for themselves. They were lucky to be offered two tests per year – and those against the all-conquering Black Ferns.

Fortunately for the Wallaroos Tregonning proved an admirable leader – acting as a part-timer only; he was and remains a teacher – to lead them to third place in the recent WXV1. a quite astonishing achievement. Wins over Wales and France left them one place above the Black Ferns. No greater tribute could be paid to the departing boss.

The lingering doubts

It remains to be seen whether Yapp has been able to exert any pressure on RA: will her squad be given the support they deserve? This is a position known to several national sides in the past few seasons, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland and Wales, to name but four.

For the new coach’s sake alone, we must hope the squad will not need to live its deprived existence a moment longer. They were awarded semi-pro contracts in the run-up to WXV, but they terminate at the end of the year, so RA has a central decision to make. For all her coaching talents, Yapp can’t be expected to take the Wallaroos to the top of the tree without the sort of backing readily given to the 7s squad.

The panel formed to make the choice was headed by Jaime Fernandez, RA’s high-performance manager. Their next task is to select a High Performance manager. That person and Yapp will take on an even bigger responsibility as Australia will be hosting the 2029 RWC.

At least the Wallaroos’ performances in WXV1 showed how successful they can be while working on short commons. With improved backing of every sort, they can hope to close on the standards of the big guns, England, New Zealand, France and Canada.