Wallaroos v Japan: Five things we learned

Womens International
by Iain Payten

The Wallaroos were made to earn their win against a courageous Japan, but how it will the series help them beat New Zealand?

What have we learned from the Wallaroos series win?

PATIENCE PAYS

Looking ahead to the New Zealand showdowns in Perth and Auckland, what can the Wallaroos take out of the Japanese series?

Despite being well-beaten in the end, the Japanese demanded the Wallaroos apply discipline and accuracy for the entire 160 minutes of their series.

For genuinely small rugby players, Japan tackled with bravery and scrummed above their weight - well above - and made the Wallaroos earn everything. 

Apart from one or two long-rangers, the Wallaroos had to score their tries by staying patient and pounding their way through the phases.

The Japanese line-speed was rapid, too, so the Aussie skills had to be good. 

Japan’s scrum is a marvel, too.

With props you could mistake for halfbacks, the low-set Japanese scrum not only stood up to Australia’s much bigger front row, they caused trouble.

Dwayne Nestor said pre-game he hoped the practice of scrumming low would prove valuable when they come to pack down against a similarly sized New Zealand front row.

The extent of that value will be interesting to see.

BUILD DEFENCE

Dwayne Nestor talked up the Wallaroos’ defence as a big plus from the Japan series, holding the visitors to just one try in two Test matches.

And given the difficulty of tackling the short Japanese players, the discipline and connection in defence was indeed impressive.

So too the amount of big shots laid on.

But the only issue for the Wallaroos is that the Black Ferns represent an entirely different challenge to Japan.

The Kiwis are big and strong and last year scored a majority of their tries with multiple tight carries from massive forwards close to the ruck. 

The Wallaroos will have to adjust their sights and ratchet up the muscle even further.

AMAZING GRACE

You’d go a long way to find a more inspired choice for a captain than Grace Hamilton. She gets ticks in all the areas you can measure and all the ones you can’t, as well.

Hamilton was superb for NSW in the Super W and was a deserved player of the march in the final, so you know you’re always going to get quality from the Sydney Uni no.8.

But Dwayne Nestor’s decision to hand Hamilton the captain’s arm band for the Wallaroos’ winter campaign against Japan and New Zealand has seen her take her game to a whole new level.

Her ball-carrying has been so good she’d given James Tedesco a run for his money on metres-run stats. Over 370 metres in two games is ridiculously good.

But the captaincy has also sat well with Hamilton because she is a genuine leader for women’s rugby off the field too.

Hamilton was at pains to make rival Japan skipper Saki Minami feel at ease at their photo shoot on Friday, taking selfies and joking around.

And at halftime at North Sydney Oval, Hamilton went well out of her way to run a few metres away from the tunnel to high five a group of girls standing on the fence, before going down to the rooms.

Then she spent ages circling the ground post-game, talking with young girls. 

WALLAROO TWO

There were many strong performers for the Wallaroos but outside of the skipper, two caught the eye: Mahalia Murphy and prop Liz Patu.

Murphy has been in the Aussie XVs and Sevens programs for a few years, after playing for Australia in rugby league. She has always felt like one of the most talented players in all forms of rugby in Australia, but for whatever reason, Murphy has not risen to the prominence of a Caslick or a Cherry.

But it feels like that time is upon us.

Fast, super strong with the ball in hand and aggressive in defence, Murphy is a star on the rise.

Patu, meanwhile, is a veteran who is on her way back.

After the controversial biting incident that saw her banned in Super W, Patu was ashamed and - according to Nestor - is now determined to win back respect on the field.

She has done that with two eye-catching cameos off the bench in the Japanese series. 

Patu’s destructive runs helped Australia get out of their half and into good scoring position in the second half.

Loose offloads were a sign was trying a tad too hard, perhaps. But Nestor will now have a tough choice on his hands for the no.1 jersey. The ultra-reliable Emily Robinson or a fired-up Patu.

It’s a good headache.

SALUTE TO JAPAN

The history books will show the Wallaroos were far too strong for Japan but those pages won’t also paint the neccesary picture of how gutsy the Sakura were in the two-Test series.

It’s not a joke to say the Japanese team - to a woman - were far smaller, lighter and shorter than their Aussie rivals. 

When the stars aligned, the Japanese were smashed by the Wallaroos.

And yet they kept coming, and coming and coming.

They threw themselves at full-pace into the Aussies when they had the ball, and in defence, they tackled low with intensity and courage.

Japan may lack size but they do not lack for heart, at all.