Sitting idle and isolated in the South Pacific, there will be some much-needed rugby sevens competition for both New Zealand Sevens teams in Fiji during March.
Announcing a series of tournaments that will help prepare both the Black Ferns Sevens and the All Blacks Sevens teams ahead of the return of the HSBC Sevens Series in Singapore, New Zealand Rugby (NZR) believe this will shrug off most of the rust that has developed over the last six months. That is how long these players have sat idle since the end of the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Not entirely dormant, yet for all the efforts by coaches and management, they were only able to train and play internal matches that are nowhere near the level of the World Series. After being unable to travel and return for the first legs of the 2021/22 HSBC Sevens Series, the Kiwi sides have already given up points to their International rivals South Africa and Australia. The Blitzbok men and Aussie 7s women lead their respective competitions after going unbeaten over the course of this season to date. And neither Kiwi side would expect to compete with them, especially if it wasn’t for competitive lead-in tournaments that will be hosted by the Fijian Rugby Union.
The Black Ferns Sevens will take the field first, as part of the FRU Super Sevens Series on March 10-11. The following weekend they will play four matches against the Olympic bronze medalists, Fijiana. All matches will be played in Lautoka. The All Blacks Sevens join the women on March 18-19, with matches against Fiji and Australia in Lautoka, before traveling to Suva for the Fiji Bitter Marist Sevens on March 24-26.
ICYMI | We are hitting the road again! We'll start in Fiji in a couple of weeks, against a couple of familiar foes 🇫🇯🇦🇺
— All Blacks Sevens (@AllBlacks7s) March 4, 2022
While the men will come with a well-resourced unit, the women do not include those team members who are competing in the Super Rugby Aupiki competition.
Much-needed competition for isolated New Zealand Sevens teams
The early traveling party for the Black Ferns 7s group includes Niall Williams (see main image), and Michaela Blade. They lead an inexperienced side that will miss the likes of Sarah Hirini and Ruby Tui. Those valued team members are preoccupied with the XVs game now, so giving the next tier of players this opportunity will assist the women to construct an able playing group that can be added to before the end of April after domestic Super Rugby duties are completed, and those players are brought back into the training squad.
Apprehensive though, as NZ sevens fans will be, considering how far behind the two sides are. That is by comparison to the Australian and even the Fijian teams. While they have all been conditioning, playing in the Super Sevens Series locally, nothing beats running out onto the field. So expect the women to struggle with the opposition to start with, as much as the conditions. Humidity and the playing surface will be against them, yet many will feel this opportunity is the endorsement of improved NZR professional contracts that many of the group now enjoy.
With those rewards come more demands too. Expectations might be higher as well, following the ‘golden effect’ left after a stellar performance in 2021 when they were last competing. Yet the road back to top International opposition must be taken carefully, so the pathway to Langford in late April, could not be better laid than to include these preparations. For the men, playing in Fiji gives them similar conditions to the Orient. Fiji will offer benefits for the men (more so than the women) and the anticipation will be obvious within the teams as they get closer to representing their country on the World Series circuit once again.
NZR head of high-performance Mike Anthony said it is great news to see the teams being able to return to action. “We know they have continued to train so diligently, and it’s been hard for them to see the World Series continue without them.
“While the teams have had some internal and domestic hit-outs, nothing beats international competition so these matches in Fiji will be vital to kick start their on-field performance ahead of a huge six months that features two pinnacle events.”
He refers to the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, and the Rugby World Cup Sevens, to be hosted by Cape Town later this year. The New Zealand Sevens sides schedule is as follows:
March 10-11 – Black Ferns Sevens at Super Sevens Series, Fiji
March 18-19 – All Blacks Sevens and Black Ferns Sevens selected opposition
March 24-25 – All Blacks Sevens at Fiji Bitter Marist Sevens, Fiji
April 9-10 – All Blacks Sevens at the HSBC Sevens Series, Singapore
April 16-17 – All Black Sevens at HSBC Sevens Series, Vancouver
April 30 – May 1 Black Ferns Sevens at HSBC Sevens Series, Langford
May 20-22 – All Black Sevens and Black Ferns Sevens at HSBC Seven Series, Toulouse
May 28-29 – All Blacks Sevens at HSBC Sevens Series, London
July 29 – August 1 – Commonwealth Games, England
August 27-28 – All Black Sevens at HSBC Sevens Series, Los Angeles
September 9-11 – Rugby World Cup Sevens, South Africa
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“Main photo credit”