Tokyo Olympics: Rio disappointment sparks culture revamp for gold-medal favourite Black Ferns Sevens

The Black Ferns Sevens admit they've had to make internal changes over the last five years, if they want to achieve the only thing that's so far eluded them.

The NZ women go into the Tokyo Olympics as firm gold medal favourites, largely thanks to an overhaul in their team culture after their gold-medal loss to Australia at Rio in their Olympic debut.

There isn't much the Black Ferns Sevens haven't achieved in their nine-year existence, but their one Olympic memory is painful. Pipped by Australia for gold in Rio five years ago, for them, Tokyo is about redemption.

"The massive elephant in the room is that we haven't got a gold medal at the Olympics, so that's our No.1 goal," says NZ star Michaela Blyde. "We've been working really hard for the last five years to turn that silver into a gold."

And to do that, they've had to take an honest look at themselves.

Top of the agenda was changing an attitude that prioritised success on the field before their culture off it.

"It drove us to change things," says captain Sarah Hirini. "We knew we had to be better, we had to be better people, have a better culture."

Says Tyler Nathan Wong: "We pretty much went back to the beginning and tried to set good values, good morals... a strong foundation really." 

As painful as losing to Australia was, it taught them valuable lessons and coach Allan Bunting is convinced they’re a better team because of it. 

"Complacency, they call it the devil, right," he says. "When you're winning all the time, you can kind of fall asleep, but not just the silver medal - we’ve had a couple of failures."

The reset has worked wonders. Since their Rio heartbreak, they've won Commonwealth Games gold, the Sevens World Cup and three out of the four world series.

They’re now in the box seat for Olympic gold, but with that, comes big expectations.

"It is everywhere," says Hirini. "You're getting it from media, you're getting it from family, you're getting it from random people who just watch our team, so it's hard, if i'm completely honest... it is hard."

But as the Black Ferns Sevens know all too well, nothing worth fighting for ever comes easy.