Black Ferns Sevens next tournament – Commonwealth Games, Gold Coast

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SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 28: Both teams lineup for their countries national anthems before the Women's Final match between Australia and New Zealand during day three of the 2018 Sydney Sevens at Allianz Stadium on January 28, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

To be cruelly honest, the Black Ferns Sevens were ‘worked over’ in Sydney this weekend. After a determined initial five matches, they were bettered in the HSBC Sydney 7s Cup final. It was a bitter defeat….and, it has happened before.

This weekends final capitulation is relative on two accounts. Primarily, it benefits Australia in their goal towards recapturing the 2017/18 World Rugby Sevens Series title. And the 31-0 score will be a positive motivating factor for Australia, in their quest for the World Series title over the five round championship.

But the next occasion where these two opponents will be drawn in competition is at the Commonwealth Games. Australia may again face New Zealand, and that is the secondary point. In less than two months, nations from within the Commonwealth, will descend on the Queensland coastline – and that will be where this New Zealand women’s rugby sevens team must now focus all it’s energy on.

The goal for the Kiwis is to be ready by Friday April 13, at Robina Stadium, Gold Coast, for Day One of the women’s rugby sevens tournament.

Black Ferns Sevens next tournament – Commonwealth Games

In their debut competition for women’ within the Commonwealth Games program, every side will have a goal to reach. Many will have been in training since December, aiming for the April date. But after their finals beatdown, the Black Ferns Sevens have extra motivation to redress that familiar outcome.

But is that the real problem? One defeat cannot possibly be a major concern? Some might say no, as the New Zealand team are the holders of the World Series title. So, after missing out in two tournaments, is it time to hit the ‘alarm button?’

Some might say Yes. On the one hand, it has repeated some ills that have troubled the Kiwi girls previously. One International side appear to have some awareness of how to undermine them – they are the Aussie 7s.

Aussie 7s retain ‘clean score sheet’ in Sydney

One of the most alarming factors in yesterdays result out of the Sydney 7s, was that the Aussie 7s retained a ‘clean score sheet’. Zero points conceded–and the Black Ferns Sevens were a part of that record.

Of concern, was the supremacy of the Australians. Beside on the score sheet, the confrontational game suited the hosts. Bigger and more direct, they crowded the smaller Kiwi team.

New Zealand had success running around other sides. They have always done so. It is when they are restricted in the movement of play, which is of concern. Scrambling defence, one which enveloped a large portion of the field, was near-impossible to break. In a way, the Aussie women played the perfect counter to the Black Ferns Sevens – choke them, and then run through and between the frazzled opposition.

It is a similar style employed in Rio de Janiero. On that occasion, the score was much closer – 24-17 – but similarly, early scoring was followed by a yellow card for the Kiwi team. In two minutes, two tries were scored in Sydney. Almost an exact copy of the final from August 2016, it worked then, and it worked again on Sunday.

New Zealand must remedy their Big Match Failures

In 2016/17, New Zealand had a dominant mindset. They performed to their ideals, matching all sides–Team USA beat them 12-19 in Sydney. A ‘trip up’ on a season where the sides concentration was unbroken over the full calendar.

But whenever a big tournament or event is within reach; since the Olympics, New Zealand have lost concentration. And that is a key ingredient in any team. The ability to focus on your goal, and to set about achieving that.

It is possible that the Kiwi side have affirmations in their dressing rooms that are looking ahead to the Gold Medal matches. But, they must realize that each match, each week is a step toward that. Leave the bigger goals until they are just around the corner. Focus on the tournament in front of you – so that was Sydney this weekend, and only now should they be considering the Gold Coast event.

Did they get ahead of themselves? Quite possibly, and as well, the conditions and tournament structure favoured the hosts. Hot, sunny and often a daunting task. The number of matches was broken into three games on Day One; two games on Day Two; and then a third ‘Cup match’ thrown in on Day Three. A different format to that of the HSBC Sevens Series but, very similar to the Commonwealth Games/Olympic format.

Did the Kiwis adjust? Probably not, and the conditions must be acclimatized to more quickly in April, to eliminate that factor. In the final, the Kiwi girls were often overpowered in the tackle, and then left grasping at thin air, as players like Ellia Green ran away to the tryline.

Ellia Green (AUS) breaks through the New Zealand line and runs to score a try (Photo by Nigel Owen/Action Plus via Getty Images)

Return to Training Hub, Learn from Mistakes

New Zealand will need to return to their training hub in Mt Maunganui. Lick their wounds, watch the video replays and note down the weaknesses. An important part of every successful team is the ability to be critical, and to learn from mistakes.

There are not that many–only Australia had bettered them. In fact, they lead most statistics; Tries scored, Conversions; Line breaks. Only in areas like offloads and carries, did other sides display more attributes. Although, the Kiwi women are exceptional in areas like set plays and in outpacing the opposition.

So those strengths can be celebrated, while areas at fault can be worked on. How the Australian women could bamboozle the NZ defence, and carve through the line. Those repairs need to be done. With the Black Ferns Sevens next tournament being at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, it is a big reward. In working hard, building that team confidence, and in making the right adjustments, the New Zealand women should be able to make the appropriate changes.

Do that, and the Kiwis could be holding a ‘golden smile’ after the Medal final, on April 15.

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