Four Called Up for Walleroos - By Michael Brooke

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For a while, Capt Caroline Vakalahi thought retirement from international rugby had been foisted upon her. Capt Vakalahi, who has been a mainstay of the Walleroos for some years, including the last World Cup in England in 2010, is on deployment to Al Minhad Air Base in the United Arab Emirates as Operations Officer, Joint Movements Control Coordination.
When she saw online that some of her teammates in the Australian Services Rugby Union women’s team (ASRU-W) had received letters from the Australian Rugby Union informing them they had been picked in the training squad for the World Cup in France next August, she rang home. “But there was no letter for me,” she said. “I got back to my office and sat there silently doing my work while tearing up, because I love rugby so much.”
The next day Capt Vakalahi got some very happy news though. She received an email from a friend saying she had been selected. A phone call home confirmed she indeed did have her letter.
“I was so excited I started screaming in the office and jumping up and down so much that my OC told me I needed a volume control button and our OPSWO told me to be quiet because she was on the phone. “The letter was scanned and faxed to me next day so I was absolutely stoked.”
She is also stoked that the squad includes three of her Army teammates, Capt Alisha Hewett, Cpl Mollie Gray and Pte Hayley Sullivan, and RAAFie Cpl Brooke Saunders, who all played together in the ASRU-W team at the national championships in Sydney in September.
Ten days after the tournament, Capt Vakalahi travelled to the MEAO for her fourth deployment since 2010. She is due to return home in April.
Wallaroos head coach Paul Verrell said the squad would go into camp early next year to prepare to challenge for the top spot in the International Series against New Zealand and Canada in May and June. “We finished third in the last Rugby World Cup, so we’re looking to improve that position next year and the International Series will be a great opportunity for us to assess form and see what areas of our game we need to focus on to come home with the World Cup next year,” he said.
Capt Vakalahi, a 173cm, 82kg prop, plans to retire after the 2014 World Cup. “It would be an awesome send off for my rugby career,” she said.
If Capt Hewett, Cpl Gray and Pte Sullivan make the cut, they will make their debuts with the national team. Two of the three, Capt Hewett and Pte Sullivan, also played big roles in the ASRU-W’s undefeated tour of Britain in 2012.
Capt Hewett, a 178cm, 85kg lock, said when she saw the letter with her name on it, she had to keep checking it over and over again. Capt Hewett played her first rugby while on Ex Long Look with the British military and loved it.
“So when I came back I joined Army rugby and have been playing ASRU-W since 2012.”
Cpl Gray, a 172cm, 76kg No 8, said she was so excited when she learnt of her selection she screamed and jumped up and down. “I looked like an idiot but it was the best feeling,” she said.
“My Army coach called me to remind me that ‘it’s not the grand final, it’s just the kick off’ as we still have a long road ahead of us and a lot of hard work to do.” Cpl Gray said being selected in the training squad made up for missing the ASRU-W’s all-conquering tour of the UK last year, when she was deployed to Afghanistan. The pocket dynamo was named ASRU-W’s player of the tournament at the national championships held in Sydney.
Pte Sullivan, a 178cm and 67kg lock, was also over the moon with her selection. “I have only been playing for three years so I’m really happy with being selected,” she said. “I was absolutely gobsmacked to read the letter from the ARU.”

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