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Manenti vows Wallaroos will be hugely competitive

By Laura Mackay

The upcoming Womens Rugby World Cup will be Australia's third shot at the title.

As a nation used to welcoming international successes stretching across a range of sporting disciplines, Australia should and will be one of the leading contenders in the forthcoming World Cup.

Triumph has certainly reigned for their 7s team of late, as well as for individuals like Debby Hodgkinson who is the current IRB Womens personality of the year and the ARU 7s player of the year.

However, the Wallaroos havent played together as a squad all year and some believe this lack of preparation may prove a major weakness. But could they surprise their critics and rivals?

Sporting prowess is in Aussie blood and second nature in the sun-kissed country and Wallaroos head coach John Manenti certainly believes his team will come out fighting. He explains the system for rising to the top in the women's game down under.

"The pathway for Australian players is evolving all the time. We currently have club competitions running in all the capital cities as well as a Central West and Hunter competitions in New South Wales." he said.

"There are currently about 1,800 registered players in Australia. From these club sides, players can gain selection into state/ territory or regional teams that compete at our Nationals tournament."

"Also at this tournament is a Services team, which this year has provided two players for the Australia squad. At the Nationals all the players are reviewed, assessed and ranked. We formed a wider training group of around 60 players and gave them specialist strength, conditioning and skills training in their satellite groups around the country. This group is then, finally, narrowed down through internal trials and training to create the Wallaroos."

The Wallaroos will have three training camps behind them in a short space before they leave for the UK on Sunday 15th August. They will be monitored by the six specialists that make up the coaching team.

Manenti explains:"The camps have been heavily geared around the internal games that we have had at each camp. There has been a few concepts delivered which we'd like the group to take forward and a fair amount of basic skills."

In London there is also a plan in place for between games.

"The players do get free time and I'm not too concerned how they spend it as long as they don't spend too long on their feet. Shopping for hours on end needs to be monitored as does the amount of time sightseeing in and around London. Most of the girls just enjoy switching off from rugby and relaxing in their down time."

With Cheryl Soon captaining Australia to their first IRB 7s World Cup title in Dubai in March last year, the Wallaroos are aiming to accomplish a rare World Cup double by uniting the two major titles.

"I thought that the fifteens improvement and programme was a major catalyst behind the 7s success. Most of the girls had come from fifteens and had learned the game from this form. What the success has done is show all the girls what is achievable with hard work and self belief. All the girls want to experience what the 7s girls have achieved."

While it may be concerning for both players and supporters that the team have not played any major fixtures as a squad in recent months, Manenti believes otherwise.

"You turn it into an advantage - no one has watched us play and, therefore, will have to prepare without any knowledge of how we will play. Our internal trials have been high quality matches and we now have some thirty plus players capable of slotting into the starting fifteen."

Manenti also isnt sure that this lack of game time preparation for future major tournaments can be altered.

"Our location means it is a very expensive process for us to travel to play any teams around the world and we have to work within our budget constraints, but if the fairy godmother comes along, I'll put in my wish list."

The Wallaroos have been drawn in a tough pool. They will have to contend with Wales, defending champions New Zealand, and another southern hemisphere side in South Africa. Manenti remains confident.

"I wouldn't imagine that New Zealand are excited by the fact they have to play us in a pool game. We'll be very competitive."

After finishing fifth in 1998 and again in 2002, the Wallaroos filled seventh position at the most recent event in Canada in 2006, Manenti has set an honest and straightforward goal:

"To be the best we can be and climb up the world rankings, how far is yet to be seen."

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