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‘Overall positive’: Wallaroos captain reflects on heavy loss to Black Ferns

By Finn Morton
Australia players huddle following the teams defeat in the 2024 Pacific Four Series Round 4 & 2024 O'Reilly Cup 1st Test match between New Zealand Black Ferns and Australia Wallaroos at North Harbour Stadium on May 25, 2024 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

Australia may have started the year with three defeats from as many starts but captain Michaela Leonard insists the “messaging needs to be relatively positive” before Tests on home soil against Fiji and traditional rivals New Zealand.

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Following defeats to Canada in Sydney and the USA at Melbourne’s AAMI Park in World Rugby’s Pacific Four Series, the Wallaroos made their way across ‘the ditch’ for a Laurie O’Reilly Cup clash against a hurting Black Ferns outfit.

New Zealand were coming off their first-ever loss to Canada but they made sure to make amends of sorts with a bounce-back performance at North Harbour Stadium on Saturday afternoon. They ran in 11 tries in a 67-19 win over the Wallaroos.

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Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula on being overlooked by NZ U20’s

Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula chats to Finn Morton about how he was overlooked but then had a blast with Fiji U20s in South Africa.

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Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula on being overlooked by NZ U20’s

Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula chats to Finn Morton about how he was overlooked but then had a blast with Fiji U20s in South Africa.

Moments after the Kiwis were once again presented with the Laurie O’Reilly Cup, fans made their way onto the field for a chance to meet their rugby heroes. Both teams signed autographs, took photos and some players looked to have given away their socks.

But amongst all the excitement from the rugby public at the North Shore venue, a dejected Michaela Leonard walked around. The skipper had spoken earlier in the week about the journey this team was on, and that was the message once again despite the one-sided scoreline.

“Definitely disappointed. It’s not the result that we wanted and I think the score line probably didn’t reflect what it felt like out there on the field,” Leonard told RugbyPass and another reporter.

“Looking at that game and reflecting, we came in with some clear points of securing our breakdown and exiting on our terms. I think if you watch back, probably we didn’t execute that how we wanted to and it’s probably what let us down in the end.

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“In saying that though, we knew this wasn’t going to be a sprint and we knew that it’s going to be a long-term build over the next two years to be where we want to be at the World Cup.

“Still definitely proud of the girls. We showed how much talent there is across this 23 and across the 30 across this campaign and how much potential we have when we do execute right and get our systems running.

Match Summary

0
Penalty Goals
0
11
Tries
3
6
Conversions
2
0
Drop Goals
0
158
Carries
108
21
Line Breaks
10
11
Turnovers Lost
21
12
Turnovers Won
9

“Definitely proud. I think there are lots of positives on the back of that and a lot that we can work on.

“Head up now. We’ve still got a long season and a long year to go and I’m definitely looking forward to the next opportunity on home soil later in the year.”

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Kaipo Olsen-Baker helped get the Black Ferns off to an idyllic start while the sun was shining, with the backrower barging over for the opener from a scrum inside the first five minutes.

Wallaroos flyhalf Arabella McKenzie hit back soon after by slicing through the Black Ferns’ defensive line to almost silence the Auckland crowd.

But it was all the Black Ferns from there.

New Zealand scored another six tries as they took a commanding 45-7 lead into the half-time sheds. But the Australians rallied after the interval.

The Aussies came out for the second term with the match almost certainly already lost but they were a lot better, and the Test was closer as a result. New Zealand only scored 10 points more than their rivals in those 40 minutes.

“That one comes back down to mentality and a little bit of ticker and a little bit of pride,” Leonard explained.

“We knew that we had to come out and we had to change what we were doing, and we had to bring some physicality and front up stronger than what we had in the first half. I think the girls showed that.

“Our tackle completion was much better in the second half, our discipline didn’t let us down as much and we actually managed to string a few more phases together when we had ball in hand.

“Awesome mentality shift from the girls coming back out there in the second half and I think the big focus for us moving forward will be getting it right from the kick-off and maintaining that for 80 minutes.”

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The Wallaroos are on a journey under new coach Jo Yapp, and as this writer expressed after the Test, patience is needed from Australian rugby supporters. This group has a bit of a fresh look about it and that includes the new head coach.

That takes time.

Australia will regroup ahead of a blockbuster clash with Fiji Women at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium on July 6 and then the reverse Laurie O’Reilly Cup fixture at Brisbane’s Ballymore Stadium on July 14.

“We reflect and we’re honest with ourselves following this campaign, but overall, I think the messaging needs to be relatively positive.

“We know this is a new group, both on the field with the players, as well as the coaching staff. But as a group, we have full faith in the players that we have and we have full faith in the coaching staff and what they’re trying to execute.

“So, overall positive… just making sure we stay connected, stay as a group, stay on the same page and keep working hard because what we do in the next three or four weeks is what’s going to help us later on in the year.”

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Comments

1 Comment
m
mitch 27 days ago

I’ve only seen the USA game and the quality was really poor. The Wallaroos have a long way to go before they’re decent. They need to start with being really honest with themselves, kidding themselves if they think their current level is anywhere near good enough.

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