Oceania Rugby cancel Australia A-Tonga clash after suspected measles case

International
by Emma Greenwood

Australia A has had its Oceania women's championship opener cancelled after a member of the Tongan team reported suspected symptoms of measles.

Australia A had been due to open its campaign at the Oceania women's championship in Fiji against Tonga on Monday, in a match coach Moana Virtue expected to be a physical challenge as the next generation of Wallaroos kicked off their campaign to gain crucial international experience ahead of the 2021 World Cup.

Australia A was scheduled to take on Tonga, Samoa and a Black Ferns development side over the next eight days in Lautoka, however Oceania Rugby said in a statement it has prioritised player welfare over the tournament match and would follow a testing a quarantine process to prevent widespread contamination, which could also affect Tonga's scheduled match against Samoa on Friday.

 

Samoa, Tonga, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji have all recorded significant cases of measles after a widespread outbreak in the region, with Samoa having declared a state of emergency over the weekend.

"Considering the 2019 Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship is a Rugby World Cup Qualification tournament, ensuring the safety and welfare of all players is paramount," Oceania Rugby said in a statement released on Sunday.

The Australia A-Tonga match will be declared a draw, with each team taking two points.  The points are moot for Australia A given the Wallaroos have already qualified for the 2021 World Cup and the Oceania championship team looking to use the Fiji tournament to build depth in their squad.

 

Wallaroos head coach Dwayne Nestor said the tournament provided an opportunity to expose more players to the national program and show them the standard required to compete internationally.

It's a sentiment echoed by Queensland Reds head coach Moana Virtue, who will coach Australia A in Fiji.

Australia's team contains several players who turned out in Tests against Japan and New Zealand earlier this year, as well as rising stars on the cusp of Wallaroos selection.

"We want to be able to do the basics really, really well and give some of our Wallaroo fringes game time as well as breed in some new blood and give girls opportunities," Virtue said.

The Wallaroos played a Test on home soil for the first time this year, ultimately racking up three games - a two-match series against Japan, as well as a clash with the Black Ferns in Perth - in Australia, as well as a return clash against New Zealand in Auckland.

It was the most comprehensive women's Test program outside of a World Cup and is only going to expand, with Tests against the US, Canada, England and France scheduled for next year, as well as a series against the Black Ferns.

Virtue said it was an exciting time for women's rugby.

"With the more international games the Wallaroos have comes more opportunities for players," she said.

"It also creates more interest and our younger generation wanting to aspire to be a Wallaroo."

While Australia's outfit contains rising stars as well as Test regulars, Virtue was loathe to single out individuals to watch for over the next week.

"We're just focusing on trying to come together, in a short period of time and play as a team," she said.

"We have some dynamic forwards and some zippy backs, we just want to make sure everyone is contributing, doing the basics really well and playing well as a team."

Virtue, who with fellow Australia A staff Alana Thomas (coach) and Emma Lincoln-Smith (strength and conditioning) spent time at the World Rugby High Performance Coaching Academy in South Africa earlier this year, is looking forward to being part of the national set-up again.

"I'm very grateful for this opportunity that Rugby Australia have given me," Virtue said.

"I'm super excited to work with (Thomas and Lincoln-Smith) this tournament.

"To be able to coach at this level is exciting and amazing for my personal growth, I cannot wait."

Australia A: Grace Kemp, Michaela Leonard, Remi Wilton, Samantha Wood (Brumbies);  Piper Duck, Kennedy Cherrington, Courtney Frankl, Fi Jones, Asoiva (Eva) Karpani, Atasi Lafai, Lillyann Mason, Arabella Mckenzie, Sera Naiqama, Tasmin Sheppard, Maya Stewart (NSW Waratahs); Millie Boyle, Alana Elisaia, Toa (Dora) Filimoehala, Georgina Friedrichs, Courtney Hodder, Averyl Mitchell, Kirby Sefo, Christina Sekona, Zahara Temara (Queensland Reds); Georgia Cormick, Janita Kareta, Tiarah Minns, Titilia Yabaki  (Melbourne Rebels).