The last time an Australian side won a Test at Eden Park in Auckland, just one member of this Wallaroos squad was alive.
The venue has not been a happy hunting ground for Australian teams over the past 36 years but the Wallaroos are embracing the pressure of playing the heavily favoured Black Ferns there on Saturday in the opening match of the Women’s Rugby World Cup.
Only veteran scrumhalf Iliseva Batibasaga, 37, was born in 1986 when the Wallabies beat the All Blacks at Eden Park in their last taste of victory.
The Wallaroos record against the Black Ferns is even more dire.
The Aussie women have never beaten their New Zealand counterparts in a XVs Test and head into the World Cup opener as massive underdogs.
But they are embracing the challenge, using their status and the Eden Park curse to heap pressure back on their rivals who will be out to impress in front of a sold out crowd in their first outing at a home World Cup.
“Obviously the Wallaroos have never beaten the Black Ferns and that’s something that’s been mentioned a few times,” coach Jay Tregonning said.
“They’re a formidable opponent to us and obviously the record shows that.
“For a sellout (at Eden Park) to play against New Zealand in the first game of the World Cup is going to be something special for sure (but) all the pressure’s on them from our point of view though.
“We’re just going to go out there and enjoy the atmosphere and hopefully the players rip in.”
The Wallaroos have played the Black Ferns three times this year and pushed them in their last O’Reilly Cup clash, going down 22-14. And they have bolstered their side ahead of Saturday’s clash, with sevens star Sharni Williams slotting into the centres.
Williams, a Rio Olympics gold medallist who was part of the Aussie 7s triple crown win this year — taking out the Sevens World Series, Commonwealth Games and Sevens World Cup titles — will play her fourth XVs World Cup in New Zealand.
It may be the first time in five years she’s played a XVs international but Williams adds a confidence and spark to the Wallaroos midfield.
“The game’s gotten a lot faster since 2017 and a lot of teams are actually all professional and this (Wallaroos) team is still amateur, so these girls are still working as well as trying to juggle their training,” Williams said.
And Williams will not count the Wallaroos out.
“On any given day, you can perform or you don’t perform — and at the moment these girls have got a really good mindset and they’re really strong and we’ve seen some performances against New Zealand (that have been) promising,” she said.
“I still don’t think they’ve hit their best footy, so being able to come out in front of a sellout crowd at Eden Park just inspires you and revs you up to go out there and play for your country.
“Anything can happen, the pressure’s not really on us, it’s on New Zealand in their home town. For us, all it is, is going out and playing our park footy and being relaxed and understanding that we might be the underdogs but sometimes the underdogs can come out on top.”
KEY WALLAROOS PLAYERS
The Wallaroos captain forms part of a strong back row combination for Australia but it’s the leadership the Rio Olympics gold medallist brings as much as her play at openside flanker that’s crucial for the team. Drives the standards and belief in a side looking to upset some of the tournament big guns.
While she’s playing in her fourth XVs World Cup, Williams is best known for her exploits on the sevens circuit, where she’s an out and out winner. Olympic gold medallist and part of the women’s triple crown this season — victory in the Sevens World Series, Commonwealth Games and Sevens World Cup — she’s bringing a new confidence to the Wallaroos side in her first foray into XVs in five years.
One of the exciting youngsters coming through the Wallaroos ranks, McKenzie has a big job at the World Cup, steering the side around the ground. But the 23-year-old, who made her international Test debut as a teen before the Covid shutdown, is up to the task and set to make her mark across the ditch.
AUSTRALIA VS NEW ZEALAND
Eden Park, Auckland, 5.15pm Saturday
WALLAROOS: 1. Liz Patu, 2. Adiana Talakai, 3. Bridie O’Gorman, 4. Sera Naiqama, 5. Atasi Lafai, 6. Emily Chancellor, 7. Shannon Parry (c), 8. Grace Hamilton, 9. Iliseva Batibasaga, 10. Arabella McKenzie, 11. Ivania Wong, 12. Sharni Williams, 13. Georgina Friedrichs, 14. Bienne Terita, 15. Pauline Piliae-Rasabale. Reserves: 16. Ashley Marsters, 17. Emily Robinson, 18. Eva Karpani, 19. Michaela Leonard, 20. Grace Kemp, 21. Layne Morgan, 22. Trilleen Pomare, 23. Lori Cramer.
BLACK FERNS: 1. Phillipa Love, 2. Luka Connor, 3. Amy Rule, 4. Joanah Ngan-Woo, 5. Chelsea Bremner, 6. Charmaine McMenamin, 7. Sarah Hirini, 8. Liana Mikaele-Tu’u, 9. Kendra Cocksedge, 10. Ruahei Demant (c), 11. Portia Woodman, 12. Amy du Plessis, 13. Stacey Fluhler, 14. Ruby Tui, 15. Renee Holmes. Reserves: 16. Georgia Ponsonby, 17. Awhina Tangen-Wainohu, 18. Santo Taumata, 19. Maiakawanakaulani Roos, 20. Kendra Reynolds, 21. Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu, 22. Hazel Tubic, 23. Logo-I-Pulotu Lemapu Atai’i (Sylvia) Brunt.
Key match-up: Iliseva Batibasaga v Kendra Cocksedge.
Cocksedge is widely regarded as one of the best players in the world and is key to delivering clean ball to her backs from the breakdown. At 37, Batibasaga is playing at her third World Cup but first since 2010 and needs to find the energy and drive of that youngster to keep snapping at Cocksedge’s heels all day.
Originally published as Women’s Rugby World Cup 2021: Latest news, teams, scores and analysis