Wallaroos duo change to taste New Zealand ‘intensity’ ahead of World Cup
Rugby Australia and the Wallaroos will create official rules and procedures for overseas-based selections after two of Australia’s top players have been taken on by New Zealand’s fledgling Matatū.
Wallaroos opener Arabella McKenzie and lock Michaela Leonard joined the Matatū – a team representing both the Crusaders and Highlanders regions – for the first season of Super Rugby Apuki in New Zealand, leaving their respective Super W franchises the Waratahs and Brumbies for the first three rounds of the season.
While RA and the Wallabies have had to contend with international clubs recruiting some of the country’s top male talent for years and as such developed the Giteau Law to evolve over time, McKenzie and Leonard’s moves represent new ground for the Wallaroos.
“At the moment there are no real finalized procedures,” said Leonard when asked if this would have an impact on Wallaroos’ caps. “They are currently working on the procedures to find out what the rules will look like around this.
“For this year, I think the circumstances were judged on an individual basis based on the factors being limited gameplay throughout the COVID period and the perks leading up to the World Cup and hopefully what we can bring back as part of this contingent Wallaroos.
“So we can’t really comment on what the future will look like, but this year it’s really helped us to allow ourselves to play high quality rugby before a big 12 month period.”
Both players were wanted by former Wallaroos assistant coach Peter Breen, and we got the nod from RA, along with new Wallaroos coach Jay Tregonning, before they made the decision to accept the offers. and play in the new, fully professional competition. “They [Matatū] contacted by Peter Breen, so that’s kind of how I got involved, ”McKenzie said after the announcement.
“Jay [Tregonning] was super encouraging. Every conversation I had with him was very positive and he kind of pushed me to go when I was a little hesitant at first with it all. He was really positive in pushing me to go and saying that I would only get good things out of it, not bad things.
“Every conversation I have had with Jay and the staff at Wallaroos has been really encouraging and really positive.”
With RA forced to truncate the Super W season in July, turning the round-trip tournament into a three-week championship on the NSW North Coast, and no Wallaroos training camp or test match scheduled for some time, the best Australian players have been without playing time for months and have been left scattered across the country.
McKenzie and Leonard will join Matatu in January, with both players viewing their time in New Zealand as an opportunity to learn from some of the best in the world and develop their skills ahead of the World Cup, which will be hosted by New Zealand. Zealand next year. .
“It’s going to be super beneficial [playing in New Zealand]”Leonard said.” We have a big year of rugby on the cards next year, and a lot of that will be over in New Zealand.
“I think the chance to go out there and experience the tournament, the style of play, the intensity, the quality of the skills and to learn from some high quality players as well, I think it’s going to be great. beneficial for Bella and myself to go out there and play, learn to play in that mix, in their playstyle.
“But also to challenge ourselves against some of these competitors, hoping to improve as people and players as we approach the World Cup at the end of the year.”
The fully professional environment of Super Rugby Apuki has been a huge asset for McKenzie and Leonard, and it has the potential to attract more of Australia’s top talent, with Super W remaining a semi-professional setup for the time being.
“Well myself, personally I have long wanted to be an athlete and focus on that,” Leonard said.
“I am really delighted to have the opportunity to test my skills against very great players, to get very good coaching and advice from the support staff at Matatu. And I think the being able to focus on rugby is my only priority rather than sorting through a seven day work week on top of studying a masters, it’s going to be amazing and I’m really excited to see what can come out of it. “