New Zealand’s men and women looked in ominous form over the weekend as they warmed up for the Olympic Games with Trans-Tasman Sevens success against Australia.

Held over three days in Auckland, the tournament offered the four teams a first taste of international competition in more than 400 days.

And, despite the pandemic induced lay-off, the hosts laid down a sizeable marker as both the All Blacks Sevens and Black Ferns Sevens target a gold medal in Tokyo in two months’ time.

The All Blacks Sevens, who finished fifth at Rio 2016, won all six matches in their head-to-head with Australia’s men, completing a series sweep with 36-5 and 31-14 victories on Sunday.

Australia, of course, won the women’s gold-medal match against New Zealand in Brazil five years ago. But, the Black Ferns Sevens were in dominant mood in Auckland as they won five of the six contests between the sides.

Kiwi star Portia Woodman, playing her first sevens internationals since November, 2018, due to injuries, scored a hat-trick in the first women’s match on Sunday, as the Black Ferns Sevens won 33-12 and then 24-12 to rubber-stamp their superiority.

The tournament was designed to replicate Olympic conditions with the men’s and women’s teams each playing two matches per day. Friday and Sunday’s action took place at Grammar TEC RFC, while on Saturday the teams played either side of the Blues’ Super Rugby Trans-Tasman defeat of the NSW Waratahs at Eden Park. 

It was the first time Australia and New Zealand had been involved in international competition since the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2020 was prematurely curtailed 14 months ago. 

“It's been great to play rugby. It’s been a long time between drinks,” All Blacks sevens coach Clark Laidlaw told Sky Sport. 

“We’ve loved the weekend. It's been hugely valuable on and off the field. It will take us time to reflect on our own game. They stretched us a little bit with the type of attack they’ve got because they like to keep the ball away from us and not contest with us at the breakdown.

“That tested us, our senior players got a lot of rugby, and you saw the next generation that can take the team forward over the next couple of years.”

Woodman returns

The tournament offered the respective coaches an opportunity to evaluate the depth of their squads as they finalise their plans for Tokyo.

And, there would have been no more welcome sight for Black Ferns Sevens coaches Allan Bunting and Cory Sweeney than Woodman running out for the first time since Glendale two-and-a-half years ago.

“It’s awesome to get back out there,” Woodman said post-match. 

“Nothing makes you hungrier than injuries and being away from the field for about three years. I know I'm in a better space mentally and physically. I'm a lot stronger than I was.”

Although Australia’s women were unable to replicate their Rio heroics, coach John Manenti insisted there were positives to take on the journey to Japan. 

“It was great to be back playing and though it was far from perfect, it gives us a much better [idea] of our key work-ons for the next few weeks,” he said.

“For periods in every game we dominated, we just have to do it for longer.

“Discipline hurt us, unforced errors hurt us but they’re not hard things to fix and with another block of games only a few weeks away we get another chance to test ourselves.”

Tim Walsh, Australia’s men’s coach, was also grateful for the opportunity to test his team against one of the best squads in the world and remains upbeat about his side’s chances in Tokyo. 

“The team always enjoys playing New Zealand, and to get the opportunity to come over here and play was invaluable,” he said.

“The tournament was incredibly well run, as a team we got a lot out of it, from what the players learnt to how we get back into the rhythm of game day.

“The nature of sevens is that it’s a game of tight moments, these moments make the difference between a win and a loss and we will use the lessons from these fixtures to continue to work on winning the moments.”

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