As the excitement builds around Women’s Rugby Sevens and what Australia can achieve this year both at the World Series and at the Rio Olympics, the Women’s XVs team is also focusing on its big year ahead.
As part of that preparation, the Women’s XVs Championship will take place in June, showcasing Australia’s elite players, representing their states, and vying not only for the national title but for prized positions in the Wallaroos squad.
This will be one of the final opportunities Wallaroos coach Paul Verrell has to assess the talent available from across the country as he prepares to get down to the business of taking a competitive team to the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland.
Last year’s National Champions, Sydney, will be looking to take on all challengers again but the surprise package of the 2015 championship was the ACT.
Captain of that team was Louise Burrows, Wallaroo and veteran of three World Cup campaigns - and the 38 year old is aiming at a fourth.
“I always say that I am so fortunate to have been able to play rugby for my country. To play rugby at that level, it’s great rugby; you’re playing with the best in the world and you get to challenge yourself mentally and physically - there’s nothing quite like it,” she said.
“So at these Nationals it’s up to me, and every single girl, to perform to the best of their ability.”
An extended squad was selected after last year’s nationals and that will be reviewed and fine-tuned for this year’s week long camp in Queensland in late August.
Verrell told ARU media that the 2015 camp had been so successful he would be looking for marked improvement from those players running around at this year’s championship.
Burrows agrees that the National title weekend was of a high standard last year and she expects it to be more so this year as players make their case for Wallaroos selection.
“We’ve got so much skill and talent here. I think that the Nationals this year will be potentially the most competitive it’s ever been. Some of our young girls coming through have the potential to be selected in the Wallaroos. These nationals are the start of the Wallaroos journey for the World Cup,” she said.
As far as her team’s chances at the National competition goes, Burrows believes the ACT surprised a lot of people last year with its form, playing in the final against Sydney, finishing eventual runners-up.
“Last year I had five girls in the team that were 17 and fairly inexperienced, so this year having played a National Championship, those young ones coming through will be more experienced and know what’s expected and just the level of rugby that’s played at the Nationals. And I think for us, (ACT) anything is possible and we’d like to think people will take us a little more seriously this year.”
Teams participating will be from across the nation – ACT, Sydney, Queensland, NSW Country, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and the Australian Services side.
Most of these teams will arrange practice matches leading up to the Nationals before they all go into camp ahead of the big June weekend.
Alana Thomas, assistant coach at Melbourne Rebels Women’s team and with the Victorian team also emphasised how important it is for teams to get match practice ahead of the National Championship weekend, especially with the possibility of Wallaroos selection on the line for these players.
“These girls need to be playing quality opposition before they hit Nationals where they’ll be getting looked at by selectors for the Wallaroos.”
Burrows also realises how important this year’s National Championship is for those looking to 2017 and the chance to play in Ireland.
“I would love to see a lot of my teammates get into the Wallaroos, so for me it’s about performing well as a team and then hopefully those girls who are performing are rewarded,” said Burrows.
For all her experience and longevity Burrows believes she personally still has more to give and is as excited as she’s ever been about the state of Women’s rugby in Australia.
“I just think it would be great to raise the profile of Rugby and women’s sport. I think this year with the Olympics and next year going into the World Cup, the profile of women’s rugby will lift. I truly believe that Australians will fall in love with Women’s rugby,” she said.
The Women’s National XVs Championship is on 24-26 June and will be held in Sydney at St Ignatius College Riverview.