Rugby World Cup: Wallaroos haven't let COVID derail preparations

Georgia Cormick passes the ball during the Wallaroos' Test against the Black Ferns in Auckland, August 17, 2019 Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Despite no Test rugby in 2020 and potentially months until they take to the field in an international clash, Wallaroos coach Dwayne Nestor is happy with the preparations his players are undergoing ahead of next year's Rugby World Cup.

Based in Perth, Nestor is on the other side of the country to many of his players and has been forced to oversee World Cup preparations from a distance. But he hasn't let that derail the Wallaroos squad completely, Nestor continuing to educate players and keep an eye on the skills they are honing at home.

"It's been a challenging time, but it hasn't stopped people from being able to do things that they really want to do, so we're trying to keep motivating the girls," Nestor told ESPN.

"When COVID first started we told the girls that 18 months will come very quickly and the World Cup will be on us. Time is flying by, so we've got to make sure we're doing the right things at the right time to be ready.

"We're in constant contact. Through messaging and our communication channels we're either providing them with analysis of training sessions when they're doing their pony training sessions or messaging and providing them with education stuff."

While the Wallabies have been able to play an expanded four-Test Bledisloe series and a Tri-Nations tournament with the All Blacks and Argentina, all seven of the Wallaroos Tests were cancelled. It's a huge hit for a team that was looking to build on their sixth place finish at the 2017 World Cup.

"It just changes [preparations]. I've said all along our girls need to play Test matches, they just have to play as many Test matches as they can, so obviously not being able to play this year was disappointing.

"There was no way around it, you can't do anything about it. Preparations became a bit different. It would have been really, really good for our girls to be playing seven Tests this year, but we just have to look forward to the Pacific four next year, which will be really good prep for the World Cup."

With less than a year until the World Cup, Nestor and his staff are continually working on the make-up of his team and the style of game they want to play. But COVID has hit more than just the players on the field, it also hit their back pocket. It's the same for the backroom staff who have taken a pay cut to continue working with the side.

"We're consistently updating the players on what we're looking at, what we're wanting to do, how we want to play the game," Nestor said.

"Even though pretty much all of us have taken a pretty big hit in terms of what we can do and what we're getting paid to do, we're still treating this as a preparation for the World Cup.

"For the staff they have been absolutely outstanding because they've been doing it for love not money and it just reflects the commitment the staff has for the girls in getting them to become the best they can possibly be.

"By and large the girls have jumped on board completely. We have some girls who I would say in my experience are as good if not better than any of the best players in the professional environment. Their attitude and their determination and the commitment they have for not getting paid anything is outstanding. You look at those players and you say that's brilliant, absolutely brilliant what they're committing."

With the Super W season abandoned in March and club competitions delayed, Wallaroos players have had just shortened club seasons and an expanded Chikarovski Cup to maintain fitness and earn game time. Despite only having a small numbers of games to impress, fringe players will get their chance with Nestor remaining open minded with the make-up of his side.

"We are more than open minded looking for any girls that could come into the squad, it's a really fluid squad, girls will come in and out at any stage.

"But at the same time we're looking to see the transference of what we've been working with our established girls, seeing that transference from training into games.

"We've been able to identify some really positive stuff and some work-ons for the girls during the club season and the [Chikarovski] Cup is awesome. It provides more opportunities for the girls to be able to transfer their learnings and development into games."

While the remainder of the women's Six Nations matches were cancelled, European World Cup qualification events postponed and Wallaroos Test matches in 2021 up in the air, World Rugby remains on track to stage the tournament and Nestor has complete confidence the event will proceed.

"100 percent, if it doesn't then I'll deal with that and we'll talk to the team about it," Nestor told ESPN. "But let's be positive, let's think that things are going to occur, that tournaments will be able to be played, the Olympics will still occur.

"I think we've got to stop being afraid of COVID and just think what can we do, how can we do it and let's get it done. I'm 100 percent confident that hopefully this team next year we'll be celebrating some good results at the World Cup."