Men’s World Rugby Sevens Series title race heating up as women prepare to return in Langford
We recap a pulsating fortnight of men’s Series action and look ahead to the HSBC Canada Women’s Sevens, which kicks off on 30 April.
When the Black Ferns Sevens run out in Langford on 30 April it will bring to an end their 818-day wait to return to the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
Next weekend’s HSBC Canada Women’s Sevens at Westhills Stadium will be the first event on the Series that includes New Zealand’s women since Sydney in February 2020.
Back then, tries from Tyla Nathan-Wong, Gayle Broughton, Niall Williams, Theresa Fitzpatrick and Alena Saili secured a 33-7 final victory against Canada.
It was the Black Ferns Sevens’ fourth successive tournament victory and kept them top of the women’s standings, 16 points ahead of Australia.
However, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed the season and ensured that it would be the last time the team took to the field at a Series event in more than two years.
The Black Ferns Sevens were crowned champions of the abbreviated season and were able to compete at the Tokyo Olympic Games last July, where they won the country’s first sevens gold medal.
Travel restrictions put in place due to the pandemic, though, meant they had to watch on as their rivals returned to Series action with back-to-back tournaments in Dubai last year.
New Zealand were also absent in Malaga and Seville at the end of January but having announced a 13-player squad to travel to Canada, the Black Ferns Sevens are finally ready to return.
Ahead of their comeback in Langford, coach Cory Sweeney took a young squad to Fiji, where they played 12 matches across two weekends of competition.
That group was missing Stacey Fluhler, Sarah Hirini, Nathan-Wong, Kelly Brazier, Fitzpatrick and Portia Woodman due to their Super Rugby Aupiki commitments.
However, those players will all make the journey to Vancouver Island as Sweeney has called up 11 Olympic gold medallists to his squad for Langford.
“It’s been a bit of a quick transition getting back from Fiji and reconnecting with the players that had played Aupiki,” Sweeney said.
“But we’ve brought everyone back up to speed and had one of the best trials we’ve ever had last week.
“Going to Fiji was a really good opportunity to get to consistent sevens rugby. We’ve had a group of players that haven’t played big minutes on the World Series, so 12 games over two weeks exposed them to moments they haven’t been exposed to before around decision making and pressure.”
World Rugby Women’s Sevens Player of the Decade Woodman has had to wait even longer than her team-mates to play on the Series, her last appearance coming in Glendale in October 2018.
Already the most prolific try-scorer in Series history, she heads to Langford just five tries short of becoming the first woman to touch down 200 times.
“We saw in Aupiki how dominant and impactful she can be; she is a special player and person,” Sweeney added.
“Portia leads a lot of our connection off field so we’re excited for her to get back on the World Series and keep progressing what she can do on the sevens field.”