Wallaroos assistant coach Scott Fava has no doubt reformed centre Siokapesi Palu will excel in her new role as flanker when Australia’s WXV1 campaign kicks off this afternoon in Wellington.
Palu’s selection at 7 alongside veteran openside Emily Chancellor and lock-turned-loosie Kaitlan Leaney at number eight were the most surprising from Wednesday’s team announcement, which saw five changes to the starting pack alone.
Yet Fava – a 5-cap Test backrower in his own right - believes it’s an excellent transition for both Palu and Leaney.
“It’s a great transition for Pesi. She’s a very good attacking and defensive player and we’re seeing that as an opportunity for her in terms of those dominant hits and dominant ball carries she’s got,” Fava said.
“We’re proud of the effort from Pesi, she’s really taken this on board since we got back from Canada and really worked hard on her game, in particular that set piece element.
“That subsequently has moved Kaitlan Leaney into the back row. She’s got good game sense, she’s picked up that (number eight) position really well and understands what our backrow needs, (especially) that connection between number eight and lock.”
The Palu-Chancellor-Leaney backrow combination shapes as key to shutting down England’s first-phase ruck speed with Fava highlighting the latent threat of 97-cap flanker Marlie Packer.
Packer ran riot with three tries during the Red Roses’ 41-5 quarter-final win over Australia during last year’s Rugby World Cup and enters Friday’s clash on a high following England’s Six Nations Grand Slam and last month’s 2-0 series win over Canada.
“A lot of their play centres around her (Packer) being the receiver of lineouts and then she takes the ball and generates momentum for them first phase. If she gets over the advantage line then the rest of the backline plays off that, so there’s a real identification from us to shut her down as soon as we can and enable some second phase dominance,” Fava said.
“In terms of their two Canada games, they kicked from every region – they were even doing kicks in their own A Zone so that’s something we’ve got to contend with. We’ve worked hard in terms of looking at our opportunities, but we’ll have to be on our game.”
The Aussie charged with marking Packer – Emily Chancellor – says it’s hard to draw comparisons from their last meeting but has faith her teammates are ready for their biggest challenge yet.
“We played in a pool in the quarter finals so to hopefully play a game maybe with a little bit of wind, a different element to challenge us, is exciting,” Chancellor said.
“We’ve come away from the World Cup with a lot of hunger to be better and our results have shown what we can with ball in hand is fabulous, so I think to be able to string some phases together against England will be exciting.
“Our defence has really grown, particularly in the last couple of weeks post the second Laurie O’Reilly Test. Our connection and our belief to work for each other has become one of our strengths at training, so we’re ready for what they have to throw at us."
The Wallaroos kick off against England in Wellington today (Friday 20 October) at 5pm AEDT. All WXV1 games will be broadcast live and on demand on Stan Sport.