There is a little more than one year and one month before all the action kicks off in Ireland for the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup.
It may not sound close to us mere mortals, but for an athlete who prepares to play in this event once every four years, it is just around the corner.
The Wallaroos recently had the welcome news of a boost to funding and plans for more competition to assist in making this a watershed World Cup campaign for the team and for Australian Women’s rugby.
Currently ranked seventh in the world, the Australians have a great deal of work to do if they want to be in the hunt for the final prize next August in Dublin.
With five of the world’s top ten teams having competed in the RBS Six Nations tournament earlier this year, the standard of competition in the World Cup will be fierce and as far as women’s rugby is concerned, the northern hemisphere outstrips its southern counterparts comfortably when it comes to consistent game time and match practice.
In a recent interview, Wallaroos veteran Louise Burrows pointed out that although she has been playing since 2001, she has accumulated just 19 Test caps while some players of the same vintage had reached one hundred caps for their countries during their playing careers. So there is no doubt an increased level of international competition is a must for the Wallaroos.
When the time comes, this will not be an excuse used by the Australian team but it does mean there is a lot of work to be done for both the coach Paul Verrell and his playing squad over the next twelve months.
Women’s Rugby is one of the biggest growth areas in sport globally – both in participation and in representation - and many of the countries known for the quality of their men’s teams are putting time, effort and money into their women as well.
The ARU has recently acknowledged that the women’s game is now the biggest growth area for Australian rugby. With a professional Women’s Sevens program that is ticking all the boxes, the path towards a similar setup for XVs rugby should definitely be on the drawing board.
Australian Women’s Rugby President, Josephine Sukkar, has a women’s version of the Buildcorp National Rugby Championship (NRC) on her radar which would form part of the development pathway, but has admitted it is a wish-list item more than a pending project for the ARU at this stage.
“That is on my wish-list with the ARU; for me though, a women’s NRC would mean that we don’t need a National Championship. But we are definitely working with the ARU on a having Women’s NRC in the long run,” she said.
While a Women’s NRC would be a major step on the path of growth for the women’s game, the annual National Championship is currently still the only litmus test by which players from across Australia get to measure up against each other and gauge the calibre of skill being sought to make it into the Wallaroos squad.
Last weekend saw the Nationals run and won by a dominant Sydney team which, in a repeat of last year’s final, defeated the ACT Brumbies.
From the weekend’s action, Wallaroos coach Paul Verrell and his staff will select the 2016 extended squad this week in preparation for the training camp, ahead of the New Zealand tour in October.
The three matches to be played across the Tasman – two of which will be Tests against the Black Ferns – are the first step on the road to Ireland. After that, the next stop could be a northern hemisphere tour if the ARU and Josephine Sukkar’s current plans fall into place.
And just one year out, the Wallaroos is not the only team looking eagerly to WRWC 2017 and the pathway to get there.
England and France will play a Super series next month and these squads boast an impressive 682 caps between them.
The hosts are also planning a busy start on the road to final preparations for August 2017.
Of course with all this talk about the growth of women’s rugby, people could be mistaken for thinking female participation in the sport is relatively new – but no, not according to the musings of Emily Valentine.