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‘Shirts are on the line’ as Wallaroos seek first-ever win over Black Ferns

By AAP
DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND - OCTOBER 28: Michaela Leonard of Australia celebrates during the WXV1 match between France and Australia Wallaroos at Forsyth Barr Stadium on October 28, 2023 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Wallaroos coach Jo Yapp has revamped her side as they attempt to pull off a famous victory over the Black Ferns in their final Pacific Four rugby series match.

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Australia take on New Zealand at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland on Saturday looking for their first win of the four-nation series, but will be without star forward Ashley Marsters because of an ankle injury.

The Wallaroos fell away in the second half of last round’s clash with the USA to crash to a 32-25 loss in Melbourne, putting a massive dent in their hopes of qualifying for the WXV 1 competition which gets underway in September.

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To make the six-team series, which also features the top three Six Nations sides from Europe, Australia must beat the Kiwis with a bonus point.

The Wallaroos have not toppled New Zealand in their previous 25 meetings – and lost 50-0 in their most recent clash with the Black Ferns.

But the Kiwis were surprise 22-19 losers to Canada last round, giving Yapp much to consider.

“The way Canada approached it, they came at New Zealand with a lot of line speed and shut them down really effectively – so that’s something we’ve been focusing on,” Yapp said on Thursday.

“We’ve challenged the players this week. We’ve put them under quite a few pressure situations, because that’s the only way we’re going to get better on field.

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“The shirts are on the line – if you like – in terms of who wanted to step up, because we did lack a little bit of physicality in the last game.

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“We wanted to see how players responded to that and have been really impressed across the board with how they have.”

Queensland Reds captain Cecilia Smith will play her first match of the series as part of Yapp’s reshuffle, starting at inside centre.

Lock Atasi Lafai and flanker Leilani Nathan will start in the forwards, shifting Kaitlan Leaney and Trilleen Pomare to the reserves.

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Teenager Caitlyn Halse retains her spot at fullback after making her debut last week, with Lori Cramer dropping out of the squad and Tabua Tuinakauvadra the new face on the bench.

Yapp did not put a date on Marsters’ return, with the star flanker set to undergo further assessment on Monday.

WALLAROOS: Brianna Hoy, Tania Naden, Eva Karpani, Michaela Leonard (c), Atasi Lafai, Siokapesi Palu, Leilani Nathan, Piper Duck, Samantha Wood, Arabella McKenzie, Desiree Miller, Cecilia Smith, Georgina Friedrichs, Maya Stewart, Caitlyn Halse. Reserves: Hera-Barb Malcolm Heke, Sally Fuesaina, Bridie O’Gorman, Kaitlan Leaney, Tabua Tuinakauvadra, Layne Morgan, Trilleen Pomare, Faitala Moleka.

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