They say in sport that if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. In women’s rugby, that means getting the better of the mighty Black Ferns.
Australia’s Wallaroos have tried and failed on 17 occasions to date but, as they approach a home-and-away series against the world champions for the Laurie O'Reilly Memorial Trophy, they are arguably in a better place than ever before to bring that winless run to an end.
Last month’s 2-0 series win over Japan by an aggregate score of 76-28 has given them confidence as well as time to gel ahead of the first leg of the double header at the Optus Stadium in Perth on Saturday.
“We've spent time together, which doesn’t usually happen for 10 months of the year, and we’ve been able to learn our roles within the team and get the cohesion we need to be really strong,” said Grace Hamilton, Australia's talisman and captain.
“For us, this is the best preparation we've ever had, and I can't wait to get out there on Saturday.”
In 2018, the Wallaroos were beaten 31-11 in Sydney before losing 45-17 in the return match at Eden Park. And dynamic back-row Hamilton is aware of the challenge confronting them.
“They are the best team in the world and still the benchmark for everyone else,” she stated.
“Rugby is in their blood; they play from when they are in kindergarten. But we’ve created something really special and this is a team that I have full faith in. What better way to test ourselves?
“I think we’re on our way to closing the gap and I can’t want to see how we do.”
Identifying the areas where she thinks Australia will have to improve, Hamilton highlights the breakdown, support play and discipline.
“Our breakdown and support play needs to be better. They are a very good team at the breakdown and will steal lots of ball if they can, so we need to clear our ball and keep the forward momentum. We have got to keep our heads up and keep grinding away.”
For Australia to beat the odds and create another piece of history after winning their first tests on home soil last month, it’s likely Hamilton will have to produce another outstanding display. Voted Player of the Match in both tests against Japan, the 27-year-old is in the form of her life.
“I always go into every game trying to influence things as best as I can and that’s paid off in the last two matches. I go into every match with the same mindset – the goal is to win, obviously, but also to play the best that I can for my team-mates,” she says modestly.
Hamilton grew up on a farm in the country and only started playing the game in 2016 while studying in the United States.
“I played in the backline in America, I was playing inside-centre. But I got a bit bored out in the backs and I made the transition to the forwards when I came back; I think I am more suited to playing there.
“The whole America experience was great, the facilities and the fields we’d play on were great. Sometimes we’d travel 12 hours to play a game which wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the university system.”
Last year's Sydney test between New Zealand and Australia was played in front of 28,846 people at its peak. Not that Hamilton noticed. “I don’t hear the crowd; I have tunnel vision when I’m playing.”
While Saturday’s crowd won’t touch those numbers, the match is expected to be well-attended. One day, Hamilton would love to see crowds like those she experienced in America.
“Americans love sport. I remember going to a (College) Football game and there being around 75,000 people there; it was incredible.
“The support for women’s rugby in Australia and around the world is growing heaps. If we had 75,000 watching, I’d be stoked, and I think the rest of the world would be stoked. Hopefully one day we will get there. It is going from strength to strength.”