Meet the tighthead prop who may have to choose between XVs and sevens

Womens International
by Iain Payten

She may be the first tighthead prop – male or female – who has ever had to choose between a future in Test rugby and a career in sevens.

But such is the unique talent of Wallaroos bookend Eva Karpani, the “outstanding” 22-year-old front rower may have to make that unusual decision before long.

After making her Test debut for Australia off the bench last weekend against Japan in Newcastle, Karpani was named on Wednesday as the starting no.3 for the Wallaroos for the second Test at North Sydney Oval on Friday night.

Elevation into the starting side is a rapid promotion for Karpani, who came into rugby via sevens and only began playing in the front row in XVs at the start of last year.

Karpani earned a name for herself as a barnstorming ball-runner in the AON Uni sevens in 2017, playing for University of Adelaide. The South Australian is so damaging in the short-form of the game, she went onto play for Australia in a development team that won the Oceania tournament last year, and even got drafted in by the Dragons to play in the NRLW competition.

But after being converted into a prop for XVs rugby and coming off the bench for NSW in the Super W this year, Wallaroos coach Dwayne Nestor looked past Karpani’s limited game time and saw a player of vast potential.

“I went through some of her Randwick (sevens) footage, when we watching her and selecting. This is a girl who carries really well, she can be a barnstorming ball runner but she also has a good skill set. And she actually goes and gets repeat efforts, we are talking about a tight-head prop here, she goes looking for repeat efforts,” Nestor said.

“She has a bit of game sense about her which is only going to keep getting better. Defensively she can whack girls but I have also seen her turn balls over with jackling and strips. So we are going: 'she is ticking a lot of boxes'.


“We would have loved to see more time from Eva during Super W but what we did see just excited us about what we can produce. She has a lot of scrummaging technique to learn, she is only still fresh to it, but once she establishes some good scrummaging technique, her game can be anything. She is ticking a lot of boxes.”

Karpani will play for the Wallaroos over the next month as they move from the Japan series into a two-Test campaign against New Zealand, and then return to sevens to play in the AON Uni series.

Karpani has been on the fringes of Australian sevens squad selection for a while and coach John Manenti is keeping an eye on the powerful runner.

“I know the sevens are still looking at her and she is capable in that area as well,” Nestor said.

“She has played the AON and that sort of stuff, so she has got opportunities. And for the time being she is going to get to experience both.

“We have had that discussion with her, that she is going to be able to experience sevens and fifteens. But we sort of want to get to a position where she makes the decision based on what she wants to do.

“From our point, from the 15s point of view, we’d love to keep her and keep developing her because she could be outstanding.

“And the other thing is she is an awesome human being. So she ticks so many boxes. When you get players like that, you get really excited about what is she going to be like in 2021?”

Karpani, who scored a try on debut last weekend, is tall for a prop and Nestor believes the experience she gains against the low-set Japanese scrum will help her prepare for a meeting with the Black Ferns.

“When you look at the Japanese scrum, which compact and low to the ground, sometimes it’s more difficult than packing against a more experienced prop or a bigger prop,” Nestor said.

“There is the potential that she’ll learn a hell off a lot about scrummaging against the Japanese and when she takes into the New Zealand games, she could potentially find just a little easier and a bit more comfortable because they are bigger girls and she is not working as low to the ground.”

The Wallaroos take on Japan at North Sydney Oval on Friday, 7pm. Live coverage on FoxSports and KAYO, and Radio.