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Wallaroos looking to take next step in World Cup prep against Black Ferns

Fri, 19/08/2022, 7:41 am
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
The Wallaroos travelled to Tauranga for the first match of the Pacific Four series against the Black Ferns.

The Wallaroos are looking to ramp up their preparations for this year's World Cup, with two Tests against the Kiwis a key barometer of their progress.

Wallaroos coach Jay Tregonning is well aware of the challenge ahead in Christchurch on August 20, tackling a Black Ferns side that has won all 20 of their matches dating back to 1994. Purchase your tickets for the O'Reilly Cup and the Rugby Championship

Their positive showing in the Pac Four represented how far they have come despite limited game-time over the past two years, falling to the second-rank side 23-10 after leading 10-5 at the break.

However, it reflects the need to sharpen their skills under fatigue, allowing a similar lead to fall away against Canada in June.

“We were really happy with our start and the start in all of our games were really good. Our big focus has been skill execution under fatigue which we have worked on,” Tregonning believes.

“New Zealand rotated their squad a fair bit throughout that Pac Four and we’ve looked at those games and identified where their overall strengths are and the patterns of play they utilise on a regular basis.

“Hopefully we are prepared defensively to deal with that and we just need to be a bit more clinical in our execution and set-piece."

The Black Ferns' side is vastly different to their previous encounter as they continue the rebuild under Wayne Smith.

Inspirational number eight Charmaine McMenamin will make her return to the Test arena for the first time since 2019 after scans revealed bone spurs on her spinal cord last year.

They also welcome Sevens stars Theresa Fitzpatrick and Tyla Nathan-Wong into the squad, with Nathan-Wong set to debut off the bench.

The opener in Christchurch has special significance for Smith and the Black Ferns, paying tribute to his mentor Laurie O'Reilly, who the trophy is named after.

“My want to get involved with the Black Ferns started as a tribute to Laurie who was a great mate and mentor of mine; he inspired me to be a coach and I feel really fortunate to have had such a great relationship with him," Smith explained.

“Every Test match is special, but the significance of playing for this trophy in Christchurch this weekend is not lost on our team."

Regardless of this, the Wallaroos are keeping the focus internally as they look to breakthrough for a historic win, with a key focus on set-piece and providing further opportunities for their powerful outside backs, particularly Ivania Wong and Mahalia Murphy.

“Set piece I think that was one of our work-ons coming out of Pac Four into this campaign, we really want to make it a strength of ours,” lock Michaela Leonard believes.

“We also want to use our shape to our advantage. We want to get the ball where we want it so we can see and use those spaces with some of the powerful players we have out wide in the backs.

"...There’s a really positive vibe around the group, first time in the South Island for a few of the girls which is exciting. It’s good to see we’ve picked up from where we left off and continuing to build."

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