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‘We’ve learnt a lot’: Wallaroos out to bounce back after tough start to year

By Finn Morton
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 25: Head coach Joanne Yapp of Australia talks to her team after losing 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 Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Captain Michaela Leonard is confident the Wallaroos have made some “big improvements” in key areas as they look to bounce back from a winless run in World Rugby’s Pacific Four Series when they take on Fijiana on Saturday.

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You could see it on the faces of the Australian players about 20 minutes after their first Laurie O’Reilly Test of the Year. As young fans called out for selfies, autographs and even a sock or two, the Wallaroos continued to process the disappointment of their 67-19 loss.

New Zealand had put on an attacking clinic as they returned to winning ways themselves at North Harbour Stadium on Auckland’s North Shore. It was Australia’s third loss in as many Tests and they’d have to wait more than a month to bounce back.

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Sarah Hirini on retiring legend Portia Woodman-Wickliffe

New Zealand Sevens star Sarah Hirini gets emotional when asked by Finn Morton about Portia Woodman-Wickliffe, who will retire after the Olympics.

Video Spacer

Sarah Hirini on retiring legend Portia Woodman-Wickliffe

New Zealand Sevens star Sarah Hirini gets emotional when asked by Finn Morton about Portia Woodman-Wickliffe, who will retire after the Olympics.

After going away and training in smaller, state-based groups, the women in gold have been back in camp chipping away as they seek to improve on their previous efforts. Coach Jo Yapp seemed positive about the preparation on Thursday, as did skipper Leonard on Friday.

At the time of writing, the Wallaroos are about 24 hours out from their third Test of the year on home soil. They’ll take on a Fiji outfit, who have attacking threats across the park, at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium as part of a double header with the Wallabies.

“Big review process after those games through Pac Four. What we highlighted is there was a lot of opportunity that we left out there and when we got our systems right and executed how we wanted to, things came away positively for us,” Leonard told reporters at Allianz Stadium.

“Looking back on those games, some little areas around our breakdown, set-piece execution and collision dominance have been big focuses for us over the last two weeks.

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“Some big improvements in those areas and hopefully everyone else will see that this weekend.

“Look, definitely wasn’t the result we wanted but it’s not something we’ve tried to dwell on,” she added.

“We’ve had a lot of big changes throughout the last couple of months in our program and we knew a lot of what we’re trying to do and we’re trying to achieve is going to be a growth process and it’s going to take time.

“We’ve reviewed on those games through Pac Four, we’ve learnt a lot, and we’ve all got our heads and our minds in the right places looking at how we can move forward now.”

Yapp has named a talented squad ahead of the clash with Fiji, including the experienced halves combination of halfback Layne Morgan and flyhalf Arabella McKenzie. Cecilia Smith and Georgina Friedrichs in the midfield are also ones to watch.

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The coach has also named four uncapped players in the matchday 23, including ACT Brumbies winger Biola Dawa who will start in the No. 14 jumper. Allana Sikimeti, Lydia Kavoa and Natalie Wright are also in line to debut off the bench.

It’s an exciting time for the Wallaroos as they continue to seek improvement, which includes building squad depth. With WXV2 and next year’s Rugby World Cup just around the corner, it would be massive for the group to get a win this weekend.

“I think it’d be huge for us to come away with the win this weekend. Double header on home soil, nothing really gets better,” Leonard explained.

“Hopefully a big crowd out there and (it’s) an opportunity for us, and hopefully the men as well, to put out some good footy, get Rugby Australia and everyone here behind us and set us up for a big backend of the year as well.”

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