Australia and New Zealand will ramp up their Olympic preparations this weekend with the Trans-Tasman Sevens tournament held across three days in Auckland.
More than 400 days since the teams were last in action on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, Australia’s men and women have crossed the Tasman Sea to take on their Kiwi counterparts.
Kicking-off at Grammar TEC RFC on Friday, the All Blacks Sevens and Black Ferns Sevens will play two matches against their Australian opponents on each of the three days of action.
Saturday’s fixtures will be played at Eden Park, either side of the Blues’ Super Rugby Trans-Tasman match against the NSW Waratahs. The action will then return to Grammar TEC on Sunday for the final four matches of the tournament.
“We’re in a unique position where, in our corner of the globe, three out of the top four countries in Fiji, NZ and Australia reside,” Australia men’s coach Tim Walsh said.
“When COVID hit, we got together as coaches and worked out what’s our competitive advantage here?
“It’s our weather, government, quality of athletes, so we can hopefully work together to prepare ourselves for three medals and fight over the gold, silver and bronze hopefully.
“I think that’s a competitive advantage that we’re trying to utilise going into Tokyo.”
‘We welcome the challenge’
Walsh, who coached his country’s women to gold at Rio 2016, has freshened up his squad since their last World Series outing, a 17-14 defeat to New Zealand in the final of the HSBC Canada Sevens 14 months ago.
Both Nathan Lawson and Henry Patterson will hope to adapt to the international stage quickly as they come up against an All Blacks Sevens squad bolstered by Caleb Clarke and Etene Nanai-Seturo.
Clarke, who made his test debut for the All Blacks last October, and Nanai-Seturo have committed to the sevens squad on the road to Tokyo, and Walsh is excited to see his players test themselves against them.
“It’s brilliant. New Zealand are currently number one and those players are exceptionally good, Caleb’s a starting All Blacks winger. They have complete respect to the sevens programme, it’s a really strategic move to have those guys represent New Zealand at the Olympics,” he said.
“We love playing against the best so we welcome the challenge with open arms and we very much look forward to seeing what they can bring to sevens again.”
Australia’s women, meanwhile, will play the Black Ferns Sevens six times across the three days in what will be repeats of the Rio 2016 gold-medal match.
Ellia Green, who starred in Brazil five years ago and scored a try in the final, has been included in coach John Manenti’s squad following knee surgery.
“Ellia has been running at very close to top-end pace at every session over the past bit of time and has integrated into full training over the past three weeks,” Manenti said.
“We’ll play her in at least three of the six games and give her that good step up into playing at this level again.
“Ellia played our internal tournament in February and she hasn’t really missed a great deal because there’s not been a lot to miss.
“This is the series the girls have all been craving… top opposition, tournament conditions and the chance to push for Olympic selection.”
Chloe Dalton, another gold medallist, has also made the trip to Auckland having returned to action during the recent University Sevens tournament, as Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea did.
“Chloe told me she was hitting rucks she might not normally have hit just to test herself out. She was making tackles too so it was all positive after both girls were a little rusty to start as expected,” Manenti said.