Rugby Women Head to France

By John Martin.
CPL Mollie Gray had to see it for herself. When she started receiving texts congratulating her for being selected in the Wallaroos team for the women’s World Cup in France in August, she cursed her lack of internet coverage at home. “I had to hop in my car and drive a kilometre to get coverage on my phone,” she said. Sure enough, a glance at the Wallaroos private Facebook site confirmed she had made the cut, along with fellow Army players Capts Caroline Vakalahi and Alisha Hewett and RAAF Cpl Brooke Saunders, who were also with her in a Wallaroos team that played in a tri-nations series in New Zealand in June. It came as a mighty relief. The ADF quarter had formed quite a bond in New Zealand but it was understandable they were worried. During the tournament, the squad members were told three of their number might be culled to make way for three experienced players from the Australian sevens squad. So no wonder Cpl Gray seemed happy when she emailed Army to tell us: “All four services girls are in! France here we come. “Cpl Gray, Capt Hewett and Cpl Saunders all earnt their first Wallaroos caps in New Zealand, which puts them firmly in the rookie category. But if they need advice they need look no further than Capt Vakalahi. She and Lt Kate Porter, since retired, both played in the last World Cup in England in 2010. Australia finished third. When the initial training squad for the World Cup was named last year, six ADF women were named and Capt Vakalahi, who was deployed at the time at Al Minhad Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, sent emails to her ADF teammates to tell them what to expect at training. Now she’s back home, she is still dispensing good advice. “She helps us a lot,” Cpl Gray said. For her part, Capt Vakalahi sees France as a progression – and not just for herself. “I was a trainee prop at the last World Cup and played three of the five games,” she said. “It’s awesome to have the four of us in the team this time.” Capts Vakalahi and Hewett are both posted to Gallipoli Barracks and train together. Cpl Gray is posted to Singleton. But there’s a common thread to the rugby work they do. That’s because the team’s strength and conditioning coach has provided them with a training program that takes them up to two hours five or six times a week. Head coach Paul Verrell said the players’ preparation had been good for this coming World Cup, with two strong hitouts against New Zealand and Canada during the tri-nations tournament in New Zealand. The Wallaroos lost both games but Capt Hewett was judged Australia’s best player against Canada. “Although we didn’t get the results we wanted, from a coaching perspective we now know exactly what we need to target and have adjusted our training programs accordingly,” Verrell said. The Wallaroos will assemble at the Sydney Academy of Sport on July 21 for a seven-day camp to finalise their preparations for the World Cup before they fly to Paris the following Sunday. The team has been drawn in Pool C alongside Wales, South Africa and host nation France.

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