Wallaroos adopt unfamiliar "favourites" tag ahead of crucial Wales clash

Tue, Oct 31, 2023, 4:30 AM
Lachlan Grey
by Lachlan Grey

The Wallaroos may have shed their WXV1 “underdogs” tag but assistant coach Sione Fukofuka knows an entirely different challenge awaits his side this week.

Australia face a six-day turnaround before kicking off against Wales this Friday 3 November at Auckland’s Mount Smart Stadium (5pm AEDT).

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It shapes a mouth-watering clash for Jay Tregonning’s swansong as head coach, who confirmed he would step down prior to WXV1.

The Wallaroos emerged 13-7 victors over Wales during last year’s Rugby World Cup clash and enter Friday’s clash as favourites following last week’s 29-20 win over France.

Conversely, Wales are yet to win at WXV1 after heavy defeats to Canada (42-22) and New Zealand (70-7).

“Wales this week presents a whole new challenge. The script is flipped a little bit, we become the favourites versus the underdogs,” Fukofuka said.

“We were a bit disappointed last year to be honest with the end score against Wales because we did create a number of opportunities, but we just couldn’t convert.

“We respect the Welsh team, we respect their set piece, their physicality, and the fact they’ve had time to prepare together in that professional environment, but at the same time post that result against France, we’re really confident in our systems.

“Our set piece was fantastic on Saturday night which gave us opportunities to play off that front foot ball and our defence was outstanding.”

Wallaroos centre Georgina Friedrichs – who impressed against France and started last year’s RWC clash with Wales – said it was a relief to see her side fulfil its potential against Les Bleus and warned of further improvements to come.

“We just haven’t quite been able to put 80 minutes together so to finally be able to string those 80 minutes together … was really exciting and to do it against one of the top teams in the world (France) was even better,” Friedrichs told media on Monday.

“You saw small glimpses of it in the English game and we made small tweaks throughout the week to really unlock our backline. We’ve got a great distributor in Carys Dallinger and then Bella (Arabella McKenzie) as well, so to be able to get good connection with those two and unlock our wider channels was really exciting.

“Last year (against Wales) our execution just let us down a lot. We’ve come a long way since Wales last year so hopefully like on the weekend, we can really execute. We’ve started to review their threats and put into place where we want to target them.”

Though Wales’ set-piece remains a strength, Friedrichs and centre partner McKenzie will no doubt look to test a Welsh backline that conceded 24 line breaks last week.

McKenzie’s strong carrying game was pivotal against France, allowing Friedrichs to bust through for three linebreaks, a try and a try assist.

“I’ve obviously played with Bella at club (Easts) so we have that 10-12 combination, we’ve just slotted one out and reconnected in the wider channels, just rekindling our old relationship which has been nice,” Friedrichs said.

“Bella’s a strong ball runner so for her to set the platform as well as her ability to distribute. She really has a strong kick pass game as well which gives us a lot of options out wide.”

Tregonning will announce his 23-player squad to media on Wednesday 1 November at 10:45 (AEDT).

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