New Zealand 7s teams selected for Gold Coast Commonwealth Games

New Zealand 7s teams selected for Gold Coast Commonwealth Games
TAURANGA, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 21: Nigel Cass, New Zealand Rugby announces the teams during the Commonwealth Games Men's and Women's Rugby Sevens Selection Announcement at Blake Park on March 21, 2018 in Tauranga, New Zealand. (Photo by Dave Rowland/Getty Images)

With two weeks until the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, many sports are releasing their squads and lists of athletes. For the New Zealand 7s teams, the women and men had a shared announcement which highlighted the unity and sense of family within the groups.

The women’s squad was announced by head coach Alan Bunting, who are in a superior position than the men this year; in relation to recent results. Less so on pedigree, as the women are competing for the first time in Rugby Sevens.

The multi-Gold medal winning team have the history of success at the games–yet their recent form does not place them in an assured medal contention. For the All Black 7s, they will need to play ‘out of their skins’.

New Zealand 7s teams selected for Gold Coast Commonwealth Games

26 athletes have had their names put forward, to represent New Zealand 7s (NZ7s) over the two day International tournament. Scheduled for April 14-15, it will pit the best sides in the Commonwealth, against the other.

The women are competing with seven other teams, many who are opponents in the HSBC Sevens Series. Canada, South Africa and Kenya are direct opponents in Pool A. Then the hosts Australia, Fiji, England and Wales face each other in Pool B.

To combat the strong group of nations, NZ7s women’s head coach Alan Bunting has emphasized his groups experience. “You can’t beat experience when it comes to a pinnacle event and that was part of what we looked at when selecting the squad; players that understand how exciting and busy an event like this is.”

He said in an NZ Rugby media release, “the Commonwealth Games is second only to the Olympics for us as an opportunity to inspire young women rugby players.

“We are looking forward to stamping our mark as a rugby team and our expressing ourselves on the world stage.”

The top two placed teams from pool play, advance to the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games women’s semi-finals.

NZ7s head coach Clark Laidlaw embracing Games build-up

While only one tournament win underlines the current New Zealand 7s men’s form, they are looking to return to the winners circle. The challenge ahead is to peak for the two day tournament. And it is a tough schedule.

The Commonwealth Games fall one week after the Hong Kong leg of the HSBC Sevens Series. While in one way, it affords perfect competition, the risk of player ‘burn out’ is very real. High performing athletes, the added pressure of putting the World Series ahead of the Games.

But Laidlaw knows that having five Gold Medal winning squad members, will help in a multitude of ways. “The Commonwealth Games is very different for rugby players and something we are really looking forward too. Being part of the wider New Zealand team, the opening ceremony and things like that, we are going to embrace it all.”

Taking the men’s team to the Robina Stadium, Laidlaw has big shoes to fill. Sir Gordon Tietjens enjoyed much success. Blending the experience and youth, will be a key attribute to success. “We’ve got a group of really experienced players who know what it takes at events like this and are playing well. And then a group of younger guys that want to express themselves.”

Getting the most out of the whole squad, keeping them motivated and monitoring fitness, are also crucial steps. NZ7s are drawn in Pool C, beside Kenya, Zambia and regular combatant, Canada.

The men must top their pool to advance to the semifinals. Pool play kicks off on Saturday 14 April.

Rugby Sevens teams put Family Values first

With the excitement of being named in the New Zealand 7s teams, each group had their own band of supporters. Announced from the NZ7s Training Hub in Mt Maunganui, it is where players families have begun to make a home, through rugby sevens.

Partners and whanau are all proud of their husbands, wives and children. The enormity of the Commonwealth Games, but also the pride which goes with it. It is an experience few can realize [and the first time for women’s rugby sevens]. Alongside the successful team members, are those who missed out. So exultation goes along with commiserations.

For the teams, traveling to the Games village is also part of the enjoyment. The team bonding can benefit the squad, and while many of the players already travel the world, being around other athletes and country men and women, can build on the inspiration.

Squad leadership and management have a strong sense of family in both camps. The established culture is a beneficial element that can go a long way toward directing the teams. In years past, the ‘superstar status’ of a Jonah Lomu or Christian Cullen might have seen autographs requested from athletes. Today, the respect goes both ways, with Tom Walsh as popular as Portia Woodman; in terms of celebrity.

Known as the ‘Sevens Sisters’ the Black Ferns Sevens rely on strong relationships, and the familiar names in the 13 women team underlines their favouritism–alongside the Australian, Olympic gold medalists.

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