“Are they [mens 15-a-side] veterans?”
Iliseva Batibasaga is no stranger to the public’s incessant fascination with her age as the Fiji-Australian has been targeted with questions of her ‘veteran status’ all her rugby career.
“They say veterans, but if you look at the men’s game, you have got twenty-five year old’s playing, but they have also been playing since they were five. So, are they veterans?” Iliseva Batibasaga questioned.
“I felt age has never bothered me or hindered my ability to play. If I can push at training and if I am still on top of my game, then I should be in contention for selection”.
Batibasaga only began her rugby journey when she was sixteen years old with the North Eagles in Brisbane.
“I was sixteen when I first started training with the local women’s team, back then we [women] weren’t allowed to play until we were eighteen so I trained with them for two years and was their water girl. I turned eighteen and started playing”.
“They were a great support network for me as an up and coming young player back in 2003”.
No doubt, her Rugby lineage would have helped in rising above the limits put in place.
Batibasaga comes from a rich Rugby lineage, a product of “the Namatakula rugby factory, [her] village on the Coral coast of Fiji”, with the likes of counting Lote Tuqiri and Nemani Nadolo as close family relatives. Iliseva’s father, Isimeli Batibasaga, even represented Fiji in the 1970s.
“My cousins and I would sit on the sideline and watch the boys [Brisbane Fiji Rugby] train for their end of year 7s tournaments and I would watch them and I was like, you know what, I could do that”.
“I didn’t see the limits that the media or society put on women” Batibasaga said.
Iliseva’s father, Isimeli, played both Rugby Sevens and the 15-a-side game. Renowned for his dive passes, he played 13 Tests, including the memorable 1972 Test Match against the Wallabies as he faced rugby stars like Roy Prosser, Michael Richards Cocks, Peter Sullivan and Russell Fairfax.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree with both the Batibasaga’s representing their country in both styles of football and sharing the same rugby position as mighty halfbacks.
“He was a massive influence, especially when I first started playing”.
Isimeli has had a bounding presence in Iliseva’s rugby journey and was consistent at all costs.
“Before every game, I would get a phone call with the same advice of ‘just remember, play your own game’ and ‘keep your eye on the ball’. It was every game. No matter if it was a club game or a World Cup game”.
Batibasaga made her Wallaroos debut at the 2006 World Cup as Wallaroo Cap number 87, cementing her status as a trailblazer for Women’s Rugby as she represented Australia on 27 occasions and at three World Cups.
The World Cup trailblazer even remembers her selection meeting for the 2006 World Cup like it was yesterday.
“It was brutal” Batibasaga said as she recalled the emotional experience.
“I remember it was an office at Narrabeen [NSWIS] that had a doorway on either side, and sitting on one side, you got called in one at a time to sit in front of the coaches. It was a yes or a no. Then you’re out on the other side to the rest of the squad who were either upset or happy with their news”.
“I was fortunate enough in that selection meeting that Johnny Manenti, now the Men’s Sevens coach, was the one that gave me the good news. He gave me my first opportunity to represent Australia. I am extremely grateful for him” Batibasaga recalled with tears in her eyes.
“He was the one that gave me the good news that I would be going to my first World Cup as the baby [of the team]”.
Batibasaga went in to her first World Cup as the “baby” but played in the last World Cup in 2021/22 as a memorable mentor for the women’s squad as she conveyed the Wallaroo way.
“It was a natural progression for me because I have always wanted the game to grow so I am going to help them to be the best that they can be”.
“I have definitely favoured my Halfbacks, Layne [Morgan] and Tate [Tatum Bird]. They’re little sponges, taking everything on board”.
Batibasaga is a sponge herself.
“Layne and I have that competitive relationship of pushing each other at every session and every game, and giving each other feedback. Both of us just want the best for each other”.
This sentiment is shared with her Sky Blue sisters.
Batibasaga has recognised the homegrown young Waratahs team who have had the opportunity of crafting their skills early on. Waratahs Head Coach Campbell Aitken maintained a team that featured various debutants and promising newcomers throughout the Buildcorp Super W competition.
This included the likes of our youngest every player, Caitlyn Halse, who is just sixteen years old and the same age as Batibasaga when she was a water girl for Brisbane’s North Eagles with no shot of playing rugby before she turned eighteen.
As our Super W Captain Piper Duck said earlier this year, “the bonds at the Waratahs are made up of those who have come before us and those who are to come”.
The Waratahs are prominent amongst the first Wallaroos squad of the 2023 season. Head Coach Jay Tregonning has named a squad with 12 Waratahs players ahead of the year’s first Test match against Fiji. The team features Wallaroos legends Georgina Friedrichs, Grace Hamilton and Sera Naiqama, alongside their fellow Sky Blue members with Adiana Talakai, Bridie O’Gorman, Caitlyn Halse, Desiree Miller, Emily Robinson, Eva Karpani, Layne Morgan, Leilani Nathan and Maya Stewart.
“Surely they are veterans now, right?” Batibasaga joked as she recognised the luxury of the rich rugby experience that each Wallaroo held.