Source: Rugby Australia

New Australia

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No, this isn’t a late addition to the Commonwealth; it’s a new-look rugby set-up down under.

There are so many interlinking themes here, there’s the temptation to take them in alphabetical order.

But that would leave Jo Yapp to the end, so that won’t do.

Instead, an overview first

Rugby Australia is changing shape fast. The CEO, Phil Waugh, has introduced new faces at the top of the tree. Yapp, the women’s head coach, is the familiar one; Jaime Fernandez the other, a former Olympic oarsman, brought in as High Performance chief.

Waugh hears a ticking clock. In 2029 the World Cup takes place in his country. He has to ensure that the Wallaroos are up to speed to face the intense competition coming their way. He recognises that RA has been slow to further the cause of 15s. The 7s squad has carried all before them; now is the time for change. Hence the steps he has taken.

Money, money

RA has put its purse where its mouth is. They’ve announced a second increase in investment in the women’s game from $2 to $3 million per year. This comes against a background of player revolt, similar to what we have known in too many other countries. We can hope that these new measures will have stilled the complaints.

Exposure

How best to advertise the women’s game? Some Aussies criticise the policy of double-headers. This is an ongoing dilemma for the sport’s organisers: place a women’s game as the centre of attraction, or gain a larger crowd by adding it to a men’s game? Not even England has solved it yet.

The game in Australia needs all the popularisation it can get. Live TV will help, so will far more competitive matches.

The Yapp Aims

Jo Yapp has now outlined her main targets for the Wallaroos. She sees a need for improved S & C (which head coach doesn’t?) and better game awareness. That relates to the relative rarity of 15s matches at local and national level; also to the average age at which Australian women and girls take up the game. Many are attracted across from other sports, but that means they have to catch up fast on its subtler nuances.

She must have been immensely heartened by the Wallaroos’ showing in the WXV. Once again they proved how successful they can be with the minimum of preparation. Given the more professional approach Waugh is building, she can hope to see Australia advance in leaps and bounds; enough to worry their future opponents.

It’s little surprise that Yapp had to fend off questions of gender; female head coaches are still such a rarity. In the coming Six Nations only Gaëlle Mignot figures alongside six men. But Yapp has a CV that few of them can match. You can count the number of games her England Under 20s side lost on very few fingers. And she has 70 caps to her name, from a period when tests were far less common than today.

It will be fascinating to see how her influence can affect her players. They have long suffered from an (unspoken) inferiority complex when faced with a string of tests against the Black Ferns – at least two per year. Now at last that may be cast off.

Super W

On the player front the picture is changing too. The nation’s major competition, Super W, is advancing; Waugh wants to emulate the standards of overseas leagues. Players based abroad are homeward bound to join the six teams involved. Lori Cramer (Reds), Arabella McKenzie, Kaitlan Leaney and Emily Chancellor (all Waratahs) are among those returning hotfoot from the PWR in England. Grace Hamilton returns from League to play for Rebels.

Piper Duck, who had only just been appointed Wallaroos captain by Jay Tregonning when she sustained an injury, makes a welcome return to action with Waratahs.

And for the first time, non-Australians are joining in the fun. Sarah Cline (Canada) and Hinata Komaki (Japan) have signed for Western Force, while Charli Jacoby (USA) has joined Reds. This is where Sione Fukofuka, the Eagles’ new head coach, has proved a useful link, with his inside knowledge of Australia.

It’s a trend I have been hoping for for a long time: players no longer relying on English clubs and the PWR to further their personal and national ambitions.

The Super W is still too narrow a competition for its own good. It spreads across a vast country (plus Fijiana Drua, the current holders, from Oceania), consisting of just six teams (ACT Brumbies, Canberra, Fijiana, Melbourne Rebels, NSW Waratahs, Queensland Reds and Western Force, Perth). At least some of the pre-season trials involve Oceania teams, which is an encouraging sign. Brumbies will play Hong Kong China, then a Pasifika XV.

Then, to show their intent, Force have added two pre-season fixtures to their schedule: they meet Tokyo Sankyu Phoenix from Japan – another interesting tie-up. Likewise, Rebels have two trials scheduled before they meet Force in Perth. Reds go one better with three pre-tournament trials.

This must mean there is huge scope for more. But first the game itself must increase in popularity. For the time being, we must hope for an even spread of incoming talent across the teams.

Last year Waratahs stayed unbeaten in regular season; Rebels went winless – Melbourne has traditionally been less in love with Union than Sydney and Brisbane. Where is Adelaide?

But the tournament falls into two parts: the top four teams in regular season qualify for the knock- out stages. Here, Fijiana took the trophy last year, beating Reds 38-30. It’s high time a home team won; it Fijiana win again, it will be a third triumph in a row. I don’t think Yapp is considering signing on Pacific islanders to the strength.

This season the competition will last from 15 March to 27 April. There will be twelve double- headers. All games will be covered by live TV (tbc).

The six Squads:

ACT Brumbies

Katalina Amosa, Ashlea Bishop, Lily Bone, Bonnie Brewer, Biola Dawa, Chioma Enyi, Benita Ese Sale, Ashley Fernandez, Martha Fua, Sally Fuesaina, Jess Grant, Kat Holland, Jasmin Huriwai, Harmony Ioane, Lydia Kavoa, Kyah Little, Kolora Lomani, Loretta Mailangi, Becka Marsters, Anastasia Martin, Erika Maslen, Jemima McCalman, Faitala Moleka, Tania Naden, Siokapesi Palu, Gabrielle Petersen, Kayla Sauvao, Allana Sikimeti, Hannah Stewart, Jaimie Studdy, Tabua Tuinakauvadra, Iris Verebalavu, Neomai Vunga (PacificAus Sports Scholarship), Joanne Butler (PacificAus Sports Scholarship)

Fijiana Drua

Repeka Aditove, Vani Arei, Luisa Basei, Noelani Baselala, Atelaite Buna, Adita Christine, Jade Tayla Coates, Merewai Cumu, Salanieta Kinita, Anasimeci Korovata, Litiana Lawedrau, Litia Marama, Keleni Marawa, Vika Matarugu, Salanieta Nabuli, Vulori Nabura, Karalaini Naisewa, Mereoni Nakesa, Merewai Nasilasila, Merewairita Neivosa, Merevesi Ofakimalino, Setaita Railumu, Jennifer Ravutia, Tiana Robanakadavu, Merewalesi Rokovono, Iva Sauira, Loraini Seinivutu, Evivi Senikarivi, Asinate Serevi, Nunia Uluikadavu, Mereoni Vonosere, Sulita Waiseg

Melbourne Rebels

Tasmin Barber, Laetitia Bobo, Laiema Bosenavulagi, Tyra Boysen-Auimatagi, Lucy Brown, Mia- Rae Clifford, Halley Derera, Georgia Fowler, Grace Freeman, Hayley Glass, Grace Hamilton, Sarah Hogan, Paula Ioane, Melanie Kawa, Chanelle Kohika-Skipper, Ash Marsters, Crystal Mayes, Tiarah Minns, Sydney Niupulusu, Jayme Nuku, Sui Pauaraisa, Teuila Pritchard, Cassie Siataga, Joiwana Sauto, Millicent Scutt, Mary Tuaana, Hollie Twidale, Fapiola Uoifaleahi, Harmony Vatau

NSW Waratahs

Katrina Barker, Tatum Bird, Hollie Cameron, Emily Chancellor, Georgia Chapple, Skye Churchill, Annabelle Codey, Piper Duck, Waiaria Ellis, Rosie Ferguson, Georgina Friedrichs, Caitlyn Halse, Martha Harvey, Brianna Hoy, Eva Karpani, Atasi Lafai, Kaitlan Leaney, Arabella McKenzie, Brittany Merlo, Desiree Miller, Layne Morgan, Sera Naiqama, Leilani Nathan, Bridie O’Gorman, Millie Parker, Emily Robinson, Jade Sheridan, Maya Stewart, Adiana Talakai, Siusiuosalafai Volkman, Jacinta Windsor

Queensland Reds

Grace Baker, Jemma Bemrose, Maletina Brown, Lori Cramer, Carys Dallinger, Briana Dascombe, Sarah Dougherty, Alana Elisaia, Aleena Greenhalgh, Haidee Head, Charli Jacoby, Janita Kareta, Ashlee Knight, Carola Kreis, Tiarna Molloy, Doreen Narokete, April Ngatupuna, Liz Patu, Isabelle Robinson, Deni Ross, Shalom Sauaso, Madison Schuck, Cecilia Smith, Theresa Soloai, Mercedez Taulelei-Siala, Lucy Thorpe, Caitlin Urwin, Dianne Waight, Ava Wereta, Melanie Wilks, Ivania Wong, Natalie Wright

Western Force

Emilya Byrne, Sara Cline, Rosie Ebbage, Zoe Gillard, Haylee Hifo, Sheree Hume, Tamika Jones, Natsuki Kashiwagi, Kendra Fell, Hinata Komaki, Saelua Leaula, Nicole Ledington, Michaela Leonard, Keira MacAskill, Hera-Barb Malcolm Heke, Rosie McGehan, Alapeta Ngauamo, Renae Nona, Hannah Palelei, Trilleen Pomare, Ariana Ruru-Hinaki, Anneka Stephens, Pia Tapsell, Harono Te Iringa, Libya Teepa, Brooklyn Teki-Joyce, Dallys Tini, Alanis Toia, Numi Tupaea, Braxton Walker, Aiysha Wigley, Samantha Wood, Seneti Kilisimasi (PacificAus Sports Scholarship), Siutiti Ma’ake (PacificAus Sports Scholarship)

It’s a powerful thought that the Wallaroos and Super W may point the way for the men’s game. Super Rugby in Australia is in a bad way. Kiwi pundits are kind enough to pour scorn on it and offer their not entirely unbiased advice. With new attitudes, new faces and new money to advance the women’s game, it can see a bright future.

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