Black Ferns Sevens Players Choosing 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup

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Smiling Sisters
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 31: NZ Women's Sevens players Portia Woodman (R) and Tyla Nathan-Wong during the New Zealand Rugby Women's Sevens Olympic Medallist Tour on August 31, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images for NZOC)

Due to upcoming International rugby fixtures conflicting with the final two rounds of the HSBC Women’s Sevens Series, current Black Ferns Sevens squad members are needing to make a tough choice. They are looking at the big picture, and siding with the XV’s game leading up to the August tournament in Ireland.

In difficult circumstances, head coach Alan Bunting is reticent to possibly losing several of his leading players; including captain Sarah Goss, Tyla Nathan-Wong and Portia Woodman (pictured). Of those who have ambitions of heading to Ireland, a conflict in schedules might see them side with the XV’s teams goal.

Conflict With International XV’s Fixtures Sees Players Choosing Sides

While any member of a team would normally commit to an entire season, it appears that the national interests of competing at the pinnacle of rugby – the Women’s Rugby World Cup, to be played in Ireland this August–which is a big carrot for many of the current Black Ferns Sevens side. And with the strategic planning of the Black Ferns organization, key players are now making that tough decision.

Select players who were named part of a wider training squad of 51 (announced in February) find themselves having to abandon the ‘Sevens Sisters’ to try-out for the national team alongside the likes of Selica Winiata (pictured). All realists will be looking to be selected to play in upcoming June fixtures.

Selica Winiata of the Black Ferns makes a break during the international womens Test match between the New Zealand Black Ferns and the Australian Wallaroos at Eden Park, 2016 (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

New Zealand are scheduled to meet Canada, Australia and reigning Women’s World Champions England. Critical matches for head coach Glenn Moore to play as warm-up games toward the August tournament.

June International Series dates:

  • New Zealand v Canada – Friday June 9. Westpac Stadium, Wellington
  • Australia v England – Friday June 9. Porirua Park (Jerry Collins Stadium), Wellington
  • New Zealand v Australia – Tuesday June 13. Rugby Park, Christchurch
  • Canada v England – Tuesday June 13. Rugby Park, Christchurch
  • New Zealand v England – Saturday June 17. Rotorua International Stadium (curtain raiser for Maori All Blacks v Lions)
  • Canada v Australia – Saturday June 17. Smallbone Park, Rotorua

Why Are New Zealand Women’s Players Abandoning Sevens World Series?

The news of this will come as a shock to supporters of the sevens sisters, the New Zealand side who currently lead the World Series. Not completely unplanned though; as the goal for New Zealand Rugby (NZR) has always been to regain the World Championship.

This reporter at the time did not ‘connect the dots’, but it does seem logical that players included in the wider group might now be targeted now by the XV’s selectors. That list includes:

  • Theresa Fitzpatrick – Auckland
  • Tyla Nathan-Wong – Auckland
  • Kelly Brazier – Bay of Plenty
  • Renee Wickliffe – Counties-Manukau
  • Portia Woodman – Counties
  • Sarah Goss – Manawatu
  • Rebekah Cordero-Tufuga – Manawatu
  • Crystal Mayes – Manawatu

This core group of contracted Black Ferns Sevens team members were a part of the victorious side who claimed the Kitakyushu 7s title. With that achieved, some will likely be involved in club rugby on their return. Those women will work hard toward national team trials, leading up to the June International squad.

NZR have a clear objective, and with the co-operation between the parties, will use all it’s resources to push for another World Cup title. And while that has not taken any president over the Black Ferns Sevens program, it is the pinnacle of the women’s game–naturally, players like Goss and Nathan-Wong will make a decision that suits their higher ambitions.

Goss Sevvens
Sarah Goss (L) of New Zealand in action against USA during the Women’s HSBC Sevens World Series, Brazil. (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images)

NZR Objective Based on Regaining the Women’s Rugby World Cup

In researching this developing story, LWOR consulted with a credible source. Willie Lose, active commentator on the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series, and he gives the possibility of players making the switch his endorsement.

“I have seen transparency and great communication between Glenn, Alan and NZR.”

Lose told LWOR that “a number of them [Black Ferns Sevens] will play at the World Cup, so the Sevens will look different for the last two events”. His understanding is that the focus has returned to the XV’s game, after the 2014 failure. NZR will have heard that the ‘Black Ferns want the World Cup back in the Southern Hemisphere’, so providing their management with the best players is a crucial component.

World Rugby Sevens Series Commentator Willie Lose (Photo by Sandra Mu/Getty Images)

In that vein, NZR will be in communication with players who are willing and available. And while the final numbers to trial for the test squad are yet to be confirmed, they will join the ranks of the 51 players competing for limited places–before the first scheduled test on June 9.

NZR Want the Very Best Women’s Rugby Players Available

At the time, head coach Glenn Moore said the International series would test the team against some of the toughest opposition they are likely to meet in the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“The World Cup is our focus and everything we do from now is about getting us in the best possible position for Dublin and Belfast.”

One has to wonder though, at what cost? If sport shows us anything, it is how cruel it can be. Nobody wants to imagine injury removing anyone of the players listed above from any type of selection–as much as being named to play for New Zealand at a World Cup–that will remove current sevens player from continuing in the 2016/17 Sevens Series.

From what Lose has intimated though, Sevens coach Alan Bunting is fully behind the strategy. “The World Series is really important to the Black Ferns Sevens, and the Sisters. But losing to Ireland and surrendering the World Cup obviously made them [NZR] re-evaluate what the priority for 2017 is.”

Some fans might find it hard to digest, but over the bigger picture, the national body is looking at the immediate goal [August in Ireland]. Considering that though, Bunting and his coaching group must adapt when his group for Canada assemble. They must assess who is fit and ready. By May 22, he will need a squad totally focused on sevens, as their objective is not yet secure.

Points Table Balanced in New Zealand’s Favour; Or is it?

Leading the Sevens Series by a considerable gap of 10 points, but not insurmountable. As the points available show, even Canada have the mathematical chance of overtaking both NZ and Australia, to take the title.

For Alan Bunting and his group, they will have been aware of the decisions that players will now need to make. Possibly, the chance of reclaiming the World Series crown is enough to point new players like Rebekah Cordero-Tufuga to focus solely on Sevens. All eligible players decision must be respected.

By claiming three titles out of four tournaments, the Kiwi’s are in the box seat. But LWOR is still concerned that the appeal of a Women’s Rugby World Cup might just remove the ‘base of experience’ that the side have benefited from in 2016/17. With Goss, Brazier, Woodman and possibly others removed–how much motivation is that for opposition sides.

Emily Cheery of Australia told worldrugby.org.com how “we have definitely got further ambitions and as a team we are hungry for more success.”

True, the Olympic champions are a threat, but Willie Lose is certain who the Black Ferns Sevens must keep an eye on. “Australia are not the threat for the title over the next two legs…. it’s Canada. From what I hear, they won’t lose any of their squad”. He is sure that Canada will peak on May 27-28.

In Langford, every side will in reality be a threat, so with any weaponry removed from the New Zealand teams ranks, fans will hope that New Zealand Rugby’s wider objectives are not to the detriment of the Black Ferns Sevens 2016/17 title aspirations.

“Main photo credit”

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