Black Ferns Sevens women hugely proud to ‘step out’ on home soil

HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND - JANUARY 26: Tyla Nathan-Wong of the Black Ferns Sevens celebrates with the team during day one of the 2019 Hamilton Sevens at FMG Stadium on January 26, 2019 in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

From the moment that calls were made for the women to be included in the schedule for the 2019 HSBC New Zealand Sevens, the support for the Black Ferns Sevens inclusion was overwhelming.

That proved to be true, as the ‘Sevens Sisters’ walked proudly out onto the FMG Stadium Waikato surface on Saturday. It was clear from the look on the player’s faces, from the reaction that they received from fans and the inspiration that young girls and boys across the rugby globe will feel – the World Champions had finally played on home soil.

Would you believe it, if you were told this was the first officially sanctioned match for the Black Ferns Sevens in New Zealand? An astonishing fact, and one that New Zealand Rugby have rightly acted to correct in 2019.

They may have played exhibition games; even an inter-gender ‘match’ against the All Blacks Sevens – but their first-ever rugby sevens match was played on Saturday 2019, against England.

Even with expressing that drought of games on home soil, the New Zealand (NZ) women are champions, no doubts.

Winning that maiden clash 19-14, it was followed by a 24-5 demolition of France. Those two sides are two of the invited teams making up the Fast Four mini-tournament, that was scheduled over the two days of the NZ Sevens. And after two wins from three round robin games, the Black Ferns Sevens look likely to host their maiden Gold medal winners final late on Sunday….and the smiles on the ladies faces proved how proud they all were.

Black Ferns Sevens women hugely proud to ‘step out’ on home soil

After the win over France, stand-in skipper Tyla Nathan-Wong spoke with Last Word on Rugby. Brimming from ear-to-ear with pride, Nathan-Wong said it was a team effort, and the girls were so happy to get to play in front of their fans.

Beside passion and pride, the women are now fully professional. And with that, focussed on all parts of the game – especially defence. Only winning by a five-point margin in game one, Nathan-Wong was pleased with how the side began in their clash with France. ‘Offensive defence’ was a factor, with good backing up and counter rucking clear to see.

“We’ve worked really really hard on that. If one of your teammates gets tackled, you’ve got to be there fast, to secure that ball and get back into it. It’s something we really pride ourselves in”.

Stacey Waaka of the Black Ferns Sevens scores a try against France during day one of the 2019 Hamilton Sevens at FMG Stadium on January 26, 2019 in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

A positive in the defence, but just as well displayed was the sides attacking ability. Missing Portia Woodman, who collected a training injury in 2018 that still sees her on the sidelines, Waikato native Stacey Waaka stood in her place. And she didn’t let herself or her family down, scoring three tries….and taking all the glory in her stride. “I was just trying to be like Portia,” Waaka joked after the match.

It’s like a big adrenaline rush and obviously making history [for the Black Ferns Sevens].

“I haven’t played in front most of my family and friends in the crowd,” she told media. “It’s real special. It’s an unexplainable feeling.”

Fast Four Tournament a fitting tribute to World Champions

And that pride was spread right across the women’s team, through New Zealand Rugby teams’ management and coaching staff. Allan Bunting has directed this group from the disappointment of relinquishing the 2016/17 Sevens Series title, to reclaiming that ….and more!

Current World Rugby women’s Sevens World Champions, as well as the Commonwealth Games gold medalists. His improvements in planning and implementing attack and defence, alongside the determined leadership of Sarah Hirini [nee Goss], means this team are favourites to secure both this seasons Sevens Series title, as well as the key reward of qualification to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The Fast Four tournament is one step along a route that leads to a ‘golden dream’. By playing in the fashion that the Black Ferns Sevens are this weekend in Hamilton, and that they hope to next weekend in the official leg of the 2018/19 Sevens Series – the Sydney 7s – this group are determined to reach all their objectives.

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Fast Four schedule: Sunday January 27

Last round robin game: New Zealand v China – 2:42pm 

A Bronze medal match will be played at 6:48pm, and Gold medal game [1st v 2nd ranked teams] match at 7:37pm – immediately prior to the NZ Sevens Cup final.

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