Black Ferns name strong team for Commonwealth Games sevens

Black Ferns Sevens
Black Ferns Sevens celebrate their world series title. Photo credit: Photosport

New Zealand's world champion Black Ferns have named a formidable line-up in their quest for an inaugural sevens gold at next month's Commonwealth Games.

Spearheaded by 2017 NZ Women's Player of the Year Sarah Goss, IRB Women's Player of the Year Portia Woodman and IRB Women's Sevens Player of the Year Michaela Blyde, the team will head to the Gold Coast as strong contenders, when women's rugby makes its debut at the event.

"The introduction of women's rugby sevens at the Games is a reflection of how the game continues to grow," says NZ Rugby chief strategy and operations manager Nigel Cass.

"I believe it can be credited to the great work many of our players are doing as positive ambassadors of the sport."

New Zealand dominated the women's world sevens series last year, winning five of the six tournaments contested to convincingly defend their overall title. In the full 15-a-side format, the Black Ferns also regained the World Cup title with a thrilling win over England in the final.

But they will face a stiff challenge from hosts Australia, who beat them for gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics and have taken out the first two legs of this year's world series, smashing the Kiwis 31-0 in the Sydney final in January.

Nine silver medallists from Rio have returned for the Gold Coast.

"You can't beat experience when it comes to a pinnacle event and that was part of what we looked at when selecting the squad - players that understand how exciting and busy an event like this is," says coach Allan Bunting.

"The Commonwealth Games is second only to the Olympics for us as an opportunity to inspire young women rugby players."

New Zealand have drawn Canada, South Africa and Kenya in their pool, with the top two teams qualifying for the semifinals.

Ironically, the NZ women's recent success has pushed their male counterparts into the shadows, even though the All Blacks Sevens have captured four of the five gold medals so far contested and were silver medallists (behind South Africa) four years ago.

With the emergence of seven as an Olympic sport and increased investment in the game around the world, the NZ men have found consistency harder to come by.

They won the world series round in Cape Town in December, but failed to progress past the quarterfinals in Vancouver two weeks ago and rank third overall, behind South African and Fiji.

"The Commonwealth Games is very different for rugby players and something we are really looking forward to," says coach Clark Laidlaw, when naming his line-up on Wednesday.

"Being part of the wider New Zealand team, the opening ceremony and things like that, we are going to embrace it all."

The All Blacks Sevens face Canada, Kenya and Zambia early, and must win their pool to make semifinals.

The teams are:

Men - Tim Mikkelson (Waikato), Scott Curry (Bay of Plenty), Dylan Collier (Waikato), Sam Dickson (Canterbury), Trael Joass (Tasman), Vilimoni Koroi (Otago), Andrew Knewstubb (Tasman), Sione Molia (Counties Manukau), Kurt Baker (Manawatu), Joe Webber (Bay of Plenty), Regan Ware (Bay of Plenty), Ngarohi McGarvey-Black (Bay of Plenty). Travelling reserve: Caleb Clarke (Auckland)

Women - Portia Woodman (Counties Manukau), Stacey Waaka (Waikato), Shakira Baker (Waikato), Sarah Goss (Manawatu), Ruby Tui (Bay of Plenty), Theresa Fitzpatrick (Auckland), Tyla Nathan-Wong (Auckland), Kat Whata-Simpkins (Wellington), Kelly Brazier (Bay of Plenty), Gayle Broughton (Bay of Plenty), Niall Williams (Auckland), Michaela Blyde (Bay of Plenty). Travelling reserve: Tenika Willison (Waikato)