English backpacker turns Wallaroo for trans-Tasman showdown
For new Wallaroos recruit Fi Jones, the opportunity to pull on the gold jersey against the Black Ferns would rate among her proudest moments - despite the fact she's a Brit.
Born in Coventry, just east of Birmingham, Jones followed a well-worn English path when she moved to Sydney as a backpacker in 2012. As well as sun and sand, she also discovered Sydney University Rugby Club, the place where her rugby career began to take shape. But it wasn't until this year's inaugural Super W season that she caught the eye of Australian selectors and was later chosen as part of the Wallaroos squad.
"It was actually a surprise when I got selected [in the Wallaroos]," Jones tells ESPN. "I really did enjoy the Super W and my main aim was performing there for the NSW team, and then I got the call off the back of that. I guess it's always a dream in the back of your head to play at that top level, but it probably wasn't the goal right at that time. It was a very nice surprise though."
Receiving her residency in June, the 28-year-old said she's been making a habit of listening to the Australian national anthem on YouTube in preparation for a potential Wallaroos debut on Saturday night in the opening Bledisloe Cup clash against New Zealand.
"I think it's everyone's dream to get to the top level and I've made Australia home, so I'd be extremely proud to represent Australia," she says. "It's a great country that I've been able to come to, and I'm very grateful for everything that I've been offered here. If I get the chance to wear the green and gold I'll wear it as proud as any of the other Aussies born here."
Described as a 'fearless' player by Sydney Uni teammate Freya Clayhills, Jones made an impression throughout the Super W season for her menacing work at the breakdown and some bone-crushing tackles in defence.
"You really do have to rip in when you're playing rugby. The higher up you go you've got to have that composure and know your role, and know what you've got to do for the team," Jones tells ESPN. "But you've also got to give it 100 percent because everyone's fighting for it and everyone wants that ball to play with."
More from ESPN.com
Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle is confident of delivering a record-breaking women's Rugby World Cup if Australia is granted the right to host the 2021 tournament. Story
Selectors named thirteen debutants in the Wallaroos squad ahead of their clash against the Black Ferns in a history-making double header, with the women's sides running out ahead of the men for the first time. Jones cites Super W's introduction for that rush of fresh blood, the competition giving Australia's top female players a greater chance to show just what they can do.
"Super W has helped with the exposure of players; we've gone from a national set-up where it was that one weekend of representative rugby and playing not even full games, to playing four or five full 80-minute games during the six week competition. So there's obviously more game time and more exposure for players, so certainly it's probably helped."
Hammered by the Black Ferns in two practice matches leading into the 2017 Women's Rugby World Cup, Australia are looking to mount a far sterner challenge against New Zealand this time around. Given it's being played before the men's game, Jones is hoping spectators make the effort to get out to the Olympic precinct a little earlier and take in the Wallaroos match as well.
"They're [New Zealand] a very strong side, so to play the best in the world would be an absolute challenge but something that'll be very exciting to take on," she tells ESPN.
"I think if we get some good performances on I think it'll be credit to a lot of things. We've been training since the Super W back in our states; it's been about 13 weeks of training now back with the girls from the NSW team that got selected in the Wallaroos, and so those satellite training sessions will hopefully lead to a good performance.
"The crowd that we got to the Super W final was good and the people I spoke to really, really enjoyed it. So I'm hoping that it can feed off the back of that. And hopefully with the double header with the men, I'm hoping that people get in just a little bit earlier to watch us."