Wallaroos defeated by Canada in stormy Pacific Four finale

Australia’s womens rugby team, the Wallaroos, have been defeated 22-10 in a brave performance against world No 4 Canada in the wild weather of Whangarei, on New Zealand’s North Island.

The world No 8 ranked Wallaroos led the Pacific Four game early, after pushing the ball to the edges where winger Lori Cramer kicked ahead for halfback Layne Morgan to chase it down, snatch it up and win a penalty five metres out. A good leap at the line-out from lock Michaela Leonard secured possession for a fine forward drive for the line and hooker Ashley Marsters duly planted it over the stripe.

The 7-0 lead became 10-0 after 12 minutes when a flurry of pick-and-go drives broke the Canadian’s patience and earned the women in gold another penalty. Lori Cramer potted the penalty to extend the Australian’s lead to double-figures.

But grey skies soon gave way to a torrent of rain and strong wind and the Wallaroos’ chances blew away with the storm as they struggled for consistency in the wet.

As the Canadians gained the ascendency, the Wallaroos were repeatedly forced to defend their line. Marsters and skipper Shannon Parry both secured key steals at the ruck to save tries. Cramer slithered under prop DaLeaka Menin to prevent another, and winger Jemima McCalman made a string of excellent tackles out wide.

But the gold wall crumbled two minutes from half-time when hooker Emily Tuttosi scored from a maul off a lineout. And when halfback Justine Pelletier scooted over for a second try four minutes into the second stanza Canada hit the lead 12-10.

There were bright signs for Australia in 21-year-old debutant backrower Grace Kemp’s barnstorming 30-metre charge off a neat pass from fly-half Arabella McKenzie in the second half. In an impressive first outing in gold, the proud First Nations rookie from the Brumbies has bumped, bullocked and fended herself into World Cup contention.

Despite Australia withstanding a 23-phase passage late, Canada were awarded a close range penalty which captain and No 8 Sophie De Goede converted in the 64th minute. Some strong carries from replacement lock Sera Naiqama and fresh energy from replacement halfback Iliseva Batibasaga threatened to spark a Wallaroos comeback but it wasn’t enough.

Australia were down a player for the last eight minutes when reserve prop Madison Schuck was sin-binned, as referee Lauren Jenner finally lost patience after repeat warnings for numerous infringements. By then statistics were telling a story as sour as the scoreline, with Canada making twice as many carries as their rivals, leaving Australia to make 100 more energy-sapping tackles.

A third and final Canadian pick-and-go try four minutes from the siren by reserve forward Alex Ellis finished off the Wallaroos. “Massive credit to Australia, especially in this rain that was super physical… they came out swinging,” player of the match de Goede said.

Wallaroos skipper Shannon Parry said the adverse 18-8 penalty count and late team yellow card for Schuck were costly. “Our discipline let us down. We obviously came out very strong but in that second half we gave away too many penalties and Canada is a quality team and they made us pay.”

Despite Australia flying home from the Pacific Four series tournament without a win, Parry was also encouraged by her team’s ability to compete on equal terms with the Kiwis, Americans and Canadians for long periods of each Test. Prior to blowing this 10-point lead against Canada, the Wallaroos had led 10-0 against five-time World Cup-winners New Zealand and were finishing strong when pipped 16-14 by the USA.

“We’ve taken a lot away from this tournament,” said Parry. “We are a young group and we have learnt a lot that will hold us in good stead come World Cup towards the end of the year.”

The Wallaroos now prepare for back-to-back Tests against the Black Ferns in August, the final preparation for the national side before returning to New Zealand in October-November for the Rugby World Cup.