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Trailblazer Jo Yapp breaks the mould as Wallaroos coach

By AAP
Jo Yapp, the new head coach of the Australian women's rugby team, also known as the Wallaroos, speaks during a press conference in Sydney on February 19, 2024. (Photo by DAVID GRAY / AFP) / -- IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE -- (Photo by DAVID GRAY/AFP via Getty Images)

Jo Yapp hopes to be a trailblazer after signing on as the first female ever to coach the Wallaroos.

Ushered in on Monday, Yapp becomes the only female head coach of an Australian senior national team in a major football code after also enjoying a decorated playing career.

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The former halfback played 70 times for England, including at three Rugby World Cups, and captained her nation to the final of the 2006 global showpiece.

Since retiring in 2009, Yapp has forged an impressive coaching career and experience in high-performance sport. She spent five years as head coach of the England U20 women’s team, was director of women’s rugby at Exeter University for eight years and the England women’s senior backs coach in the 2015 Six Nations.

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The 44-year-old says gender shouldn’t matter, but recognises her chance to showcase the skills of female coaches.

“For me, the best coach is the best coach whether that’s male or female,” Yapp said.

“But I also understand that I have got a role in terms of being a role model and seeing that there are opportunities for other coaches to come forward and to coach at an international level and also within Australia itself.

“More people can see that it’s the same as playing, in terms of being able to go, ‘right, that female was able to break through’ because I think quite often as females, we undersell ourselves.

“So we’ll see a job and just think, ‘Oh, maybe I haven’t got the experience for that’.

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“But actually you have got the same level of experience.

“So recognising that and actually giving people an opportunity is really important.

“Later, down the line, you’ll probably see more international (female) coaches because they’re starting to get those opportunities.”

Yapp’s immediate focus is on transforming the Wallaroos into a consistent top-four nation ahead of next year’s World Cup in England and ultimately the 2029 edition in Australia.

The new coach has identified strength and conditioning and game understanding as two areas in which the Wallaroos can quickly improve, especially as Rugby Australia (RA) moves towards offering full-time opportunities and pay for women’s players.

“Other nations like France, New Zealand, England, they’ve got a huge history in terms of the players starting at a really young age into the game of fifteens,” Yapp said.

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“In the Wallaroos squad, some of the players come a little bit later from other areas, so there’s a good piece of work there we can do on that.”

RA boss Phil Waugh believes Yapp’s appointment gives the Wallaroos the best chance to “go deep” at the next two World Cups.

“You’ve got to invest now. Otherwise, it’ll be too late,” Waugh said.

“Even now, we’re we’re certainly up against it for time to ensure that we continue to invest.

“Which is why the appointment of Joe full-time, leading the program and making that investment in our athletes to give them the appropriate resourcing, hopefully helps them go deep in 20 months.”

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Poorfour 11 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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