Know Your Enemy

Australia gunning to 'knock off' Ireland in World Cup opener

The Wallaroos are low on experience, but in no shortage of confidence as they bring their Olympic gold medalists to the 15s game.

THERE’S JUST A week to go until the Women’s Rugby World Cup kicks off in Dublin, so it’s time to run the rule over Ireland’s Pool C opponents. Coming up first on 9 August will be Australia.

World ranking: Sixth


You know that tired old cliche about throwing the formbook out the window? Let’s do that… but maybe keep an eye on where it lands.

The Wallaroos’ string of defeats represent their only 15-a-side Test matches since the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup. Three of them have been against their nearest and dearest neighbours in New Zealand and the other two were against World Cup finalists Canada and England.


There is comparatively little footage of Australia to go on in the lead-up to this tournament. But while they were well overmatched in the June losses to England (53-10), New Zealand (44-17) and Canada (45-5), there was some food for thought for Irish analysts.

Though a star of that series, powerful number eight Victoria Latu, misses out through injury the Wallaroo pack still boasts an array of direct, big carriers and even bigger hitters. Expect them to seek out plenty of physical markers early on.

Behind the imposing figures in the pack will be more impressive athletes. Kiwi-born 10 Fenella Hake has lightning quick feet and showed a fondness for a quick-tap penalty to deliver Australia’s best moment of the June series by side-stepping numerous Black Fern defenders to get within five metres of the try-line.

While the newcomer at 10 will have the excellent fullback Ashleigh Hewson, experienced Sevens star Sharni Williams in midfield and her fellow Olympic gold medalist (though uncapped in 15-a-side) Mahalia Murphy to feed, Australia will be without the fluid passing of scrum-half Cobie-Jane Morgan.

What are they saying?

Whatever happens, you can always rely on an Aussie group to be more than a little on the bullish side. So while we may look at a squad that has just seven women capped into double figures, captain Shannon Parry is hoping the element of surprise will be their trump card.

“Teams haven’t seen a lot of us. We’ve got a lot of intel and analysis that’s been done on those Six Nations teams,” the back row told the Sydney Morning Herald this week.

“We are going in there as underdogs and we’re not shying away from that but that’s something that all Aussie teams thrive off. The only pressure we put on ourselves is that; the pressure I put on myself.

For us, all the pressure is on them [Ireland]. We’ve got to get out early, control that crowd and anything can happen out there.”

Head coach Paul Verrell meanwhile, is already visualising how an opening night victory would play back home.

“The girls will be ready to go. We’ve seen enough of them that we’ve definitely got the capabilities of beating them, we’ve just got to stick to our game plan.

“There would be nothing better than for us to knock off Ireland in the first Test and I definitely think that will be well-received back here in Australia. This is one of the best preparations we’ve had and there is no excuses for us.”

Big question: Can the Wallaroos gel?

Simply put, having only five Tests to play in three years is not a good sustainable way of building a national team culture.

Olympic Games 2016 Rugby DPA / PA Images DPA / PA Images / PA Images

True, their resources were instead channeled into a Sevens programme which reached the new pinnacle of that game last summer, but 15-a-side rugby is a much more attritional and complicated game. Their set-piece showed serious signs of weakness in June, and while every team suffers in that area against England, the pack does struggle to remain cohesive and as strong as the sum of its parts once the penalties begin to roll.

Key woman:

Ashleigh Hewson attacks the line with an innate tremendous ability to step defenders from fullback. The Wallaroos most experienced player, she also has a deadly boot and can punish teams from long range.

How can Ireland beat them?

While Australia’s form book is slightly misleading, Ireland must turn their lack of experience in 80 minute matches against them.

There will be an early onslaught, but if Ireland can maintain composure, look after possession and force mistakes they will test the patience of their first opponents.

Again with the caveat that they were playing the world’s best teams in June, Verell’s side continually got sucked in narrow in defence, putting the onus on individuals shooting up and either making big defensive plays or getting easily bypassed.

Nora Stapleton and Sene Naoupu will also be keen to give any inexperienced Australian caught in midfield plenty of variation and angles to force them to make decisions.

In attack, they will truck up with direct carriers, but they also look fond of a long, looping pass that, if inaccurate, only serves to lose yards and invite pressure in wide rucks.


Millie Boyle (ACT) 3
Chloe Butler (South Australia) 9
Cheyenne Campbell (Queensland) 12
Rebecca Clough (Western Australia), 13
Mollie Gray (Australian Services Rugby Union) 8
Grace Hamilton (Sydney) 4
Alisha Hewett (Australian Services Rugby Union) 12
Evelyn Horomia (Sydney) 2
Kiri Lingman (Queensland) 3
Hana Ngaha (Queensland) 4
Shannon Parry (Queensland) 10
Liz Patu (Queensland) 12
Emily Robinson (Sydney) 2
Hilisha Samoa (Queensland) 3
Alexandra Sulusi (Sydney) 3
Violeta Tupuola (ACT) 2


Katrina Barker (NSW Country) 5
Fenella Hake (Queensland) 3
Ashleigh Hewson (Sydney) 15
Nareta Marsters (Sydney) 4
Mahalia Murphy (Sydney) uncapped
Trilleen Pomare (Western Australia) uncapped
Sarah Riordan (Australian Services Rugby Union) 4
Kayla Sauvao (Sydney) 3
Huia Swanell (Western Australia), 2
Ashleigh Timoko (Western Australia), 1
Samantha Terherne (Queensland) 3
Sharni Williams (ACT) 14

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