ANALYSIS: The inclusion of Leilani Nathan headlines a Wallaroos squad picked to stifle Les Bleus’ transition ball under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Nathan, 23, will earn just her second Test cap after replacing Ashley Marsters in the #20 jersey and shapes a key player to swamp the French quick recycle that helped stun New Zealand 18-17 last week.
A hard-running forward utility in Super W, Nathan enters the matchday squad following an impressive training block that caught the eye of her captain and coaches.
“Every training’s a competition and every training we’re fighting for a jersey,” skipper Michaela Leonard said during Thursday's squad announcement.
“Leilani did incredibly well this week both sides of the ball, showing mongrel, good fight, good intent, getting us gain line carries and being a strong presence in defence.
"We want to bring that into the game on the weekend and I think she’ll do that really well.
“We’ve identified as a group they (France) play really well off transition ball, so our focus will be to shut down any loose opportunities, diving on ball wherever we can … and shoring up our set piece so we can play the structures we want to play.”
Nathan has also worked closely on her running game with assistant coach Scott Fava to prepare for Saturday’s WXV1 clash, with Fava flagging her work rate and versatility across lock and the backrow.
“She plays Super W at lock, eight and six so we’ve seen her in all sorts of positions playing different roles which is great but I think 7 could be her position. She’s got a great work rate, she moves around the field really well." Fava notes.
“Particularly against France this week we think it’ll be a real transition game. We know they move the ball quickly, they move it to their wingers, they kick the ball downfield.
"So for us, we’re looking at backrowers who have that capacity to move and have that dominant ball carry and defensive work rate we need.”
Wallaroos coach Jay Tregonning told media Marsters was unlucky to miss selection but opted for Nathan’s form and caution following an injury scare to the Rebels skipper.
It’s a move he hopes will pay dividends against a French side who shared a training paddock with Australia during last year’s World Cup preparations.
“She (Marsters) picked up a niggle in the warm-up last week against England. She’s bitterly disappointed that she missed out,” Tregonning said.
“Ash was immense off the bench last week and a similar role would’ve been an option but if we get an injury early on and she’s not 100 per cent going on early, we felt Leilani would offer a little more there.
“We were fortunate to stay in the same hotel as France last year and have a hit out against them leading into our first World Cup game, so they’re not totally foreign to us.
“We know they’re a quality team, they just beat the world champions and they’re going to be a tough ask for us this week - the speed of their play, their ability to quickly recycle ball and then again their speed of defence as well.”
The Wallaroos’ WXV1 clash with France kicks off 5pm AEDT on Saturday 28 October via Stan Sport.