Wallaroos lock Michaela Leonard is looking to translate their promising Pac Four defeat to the Black Ferns into a breakout win as they prepare for the O'Reilly Cup opener in Christchurch.
Jay Tregonning's side have based themselves in Christchurch ahead of the first Test on August 20, set to return to Australia the following week as part of a double-header with the Wallabies-Springboks in Adelaide.
The Wallaroos showed their potential in their previous fixture two months ago, taking a 10-5 lead into the break, the first time they had been up on the scoreboard at half-time in their 20 match-ups.
Leonard believes they can take plenty from the fixture despite falling off in the second half, pointing to their set-piece and execution as key.
“I think we look at the start of the game and we executed well and set the platform with our set-piece and we were executing really well with our simple skills,” Leonard told Rugby.com.au
“It showed that when we can do that we can not only match them but we can actually put a lot of pressure on them.
“Definitely taking a lot of positives from moments like that where you are up and you have that advantage. The energy through that period was surreal to be a part of.
“Hopefully we can recreate that for the full 80 minutes this weekend and see us come out on top this weekend.”
With further matches against the USA and Canada under their belt, the execution and cohesion are starting to build after a near-three-year wait between Tests.
The two Tests prove vital hitout ahead of the World Cup, a rare chance to play their opening game opponents before October 8.
“We’ve seen that this week the small improvements in our execution and role clarity show that the more time we do spend together coming off Pac 4, even though it wasn’t as successful as we’d like, we’re still taking those benefits away and continuing to grow as a group,” she believes.
“I’ve been really fortunate to suit up next to Kaity (Kaitlan Leaney) for the last few games and we’re getting used to working with each and how we communicate.
“…It’s exciting and fun to work with different combinations and hopefully see the result regardless of who’s out there.”
Leonard has a unique insight into a number of the Black Ferns' key threats, starting the year playing in their domestic competition, Super Rugby Aupiki, with Matatū.
This helps 'humanise' the defending world champions according to the Brumbies skipper, battle-tested and eager to impress against the likes of Pip Love, Kendra Cocksedge and the Bremner sisters.
“I think it works on both sides,” Leonard explained
“On one hand, you know how incredible they are as athletes and their strengths, powers, parts of those games you have to watch for. On the other hand, looking at a line out and knowing 8 or 12 of those girls, how many you know or played and trained with, it adds that human element of ‘well they’ve hit me at training, I know if they hit me in-game what it’ll feel like’ and they are strong here but just another player at the end of the day.
“...At the end of the day, I think it’s one of the incredible experiences Rugby can bring you like singing your anthem, facing a haka and being out on that platform in front of thousands of people with some really good mates along the way.”