This weekend, the New Zealand (NZ) women’s rugby sevens team will attempt to go one better than their male counterparts, as they face the Last Leg in the Sevens Series for New Zealand ‘Sisters’. This weekend they compete at the Clermont-Ferrand event that will crown the 2015/2016 champion women’s nation, and display the ever-improving skill set of these wonderful female athletes.
Athletes yes, but also a great big family. They refer to each other as ‘sisters‘. Whanau, which is Maori word for family, it is a group philosophy that NZ rugby fans will hope gives this side a mental toughness to overcome a big points lead, to better a higher-achieving Australian team in the sides performance by this Sunday’s final cup match–provided NZ reach the qualifying stages.
Current Standings: Australia 76 points | NZL 64 | England 60 | Canada 54 | France 48 | Russia 38 | USA 36 | Fiji 28
Final Women’s Sevens Series Round in France
New Zealand Women’s team for Clermont-Ferrand:
Shakira Baker (Waikato)
Kelly Brazier (Bay of Plenty)
Theresa Fitzpatrick (Auckland)
Sarah Goss (captain) (Manawatu)
Kayla McAlister (Auckland)
Huriana Manuel (Auckland)
Terina Te Tamaki (Waikato)
Ruby Tui (Canterbury)
Katarina Whata-Simpkins (Wellington)
Renee Wickliffe (Counties Manukau)
Niall Williams (Auckland)
Portia Woodman (Counties Manukau)
The group have been training and competing in several Sevens tournaments within NZ that involved an A and B side facing select opponents, to re-create match-like conditions, and by all evidence the women have strived to peak for the final competition of the year. A long while to wait from one tournament to the next, fans will be hoping that the time’s time has been well spent.
Captain Sarah Goss leads a mix of experience and adventure that has not been able to equal an onslaught from Australia that see’s them all but secure this years title–a 12 point advantage, they will only need to finish sixth place to be awarded the title. Some might say that there is ‘not much that Goss and her Sisters can achieve’ but in sport, it is more about your last result than what you ‘could have done’ in [as an example] Atlanta or Hong Kong.
Much has been learned over the season, but there has been a glaring distance between the Aussie Pearls and the Sisters and that is one major objective for this weekend. New Zealand and all other competing nations have been ineffectual this year, failing to close down the series leaders in three of four tournaments. Only the England girls have recently challenged the tough Aussie girls, the Kiwis being knocked-down in several key games, finals and disappointing semi final games where they have then had to settle for a Plate victory. A hard year that might feel much better if they can finish the series on a high.
Goss and other experienced players must supply their wisdom on the field and then be able to link with the younger ‘stars’. Veterans like Huriana Manuel have told AllBlacks.com “The possibility of representing my country at the Olympics was definitely a dream of mine, and now that it’s not far away, it is a surreal feeling. I am just grateful to be here and in this position.” She will have a role alongside Terina Te Tamaki and Shakira Baker, woman who will each contribute greatly to the improved effort in France this weekend.
Last Leg in the Sevens Series
A win in France by the Sean Horan coached women may compensate an unparalleled distance between competing sides of the full calendar of rounds–from December until May. Five hard-fought tournaments in 2016, questions must have been raised before this final stop on the World Series calendar and the only answer to them is ‘a win is needed’. It’s pretty clear-cut, success is required or stakeholders will become alarmed.
NZ Rugby has promoted the sport heavily, the women being as equal a medal opportunity as the men truthfully but the competition of 2016 has been a new barrier to this nations aspirations. It may not be as easy as the non-educated sevens follower might assume.
It is a full-on competition, no easy roads to players dreams of Gold.
Plenty has been written on the new dominance by Australia but a bruised and unhappy NZ ‘Sevens Sisters’ will be upset and annoyed–that maybe a good thing. The game of Rugby is not ‘tiddylinks’ and the brute reality of a Gold medal on offer come August should be a really good motivating factor, for every player and equally, every nation. The last leg of the Women’s Sevens Series, they should hold nothing back and the Sisters will need to work extra hard to realize all their dreams.
Clermont-Ferrand – Saturday 28 May – see schedule here.
(Clermont-Ferrand is 10 hours behind NZT)
Read the full tournament report from Last Word On Sports resident Rugby Sevens columnist, Jovilis Waqa and ‘the LOWDOWN’ on the HSBC Women’s Sevens Series.
“Main photo credit”