Tokyo Olympics: Black Ferns Sevens out to stake Games claims against Australia

After more than 12 months of intrasquad scrimmages and cancelled warm-up tournaments, the Black Ferns Sevens can finally test themselves against world class opposition, when they play a six-game series against Australia this weekend.

The reigning Olympic champions should provide an ideal guide to how the Kiwi women are tracking just two months out from the rapidly approaching Tokyo Games.

With May's IRB world series tournaments cancelled, these games will also be one of the last chances for players to press their selection claims for the 12-strong squad to Japan.

"It's definitely a trial," co-coach Cory Sweeney tells Newshub. "There's pressure and the girls are feeling it, and there's great energy in the group right now. 

"Like any team, you've got an idea, and we've certainly got an idea of how we're tracking and the players that are in the mix.

"But there are certainly some really competitive spots up for grabs and this weekend will give us a really good indication where people will sit in that group.

"Watch out Aussie, I reckon."

From Friday to Sunday, the NZ men and women will play a pair of games daily against their Australian counterparts, bookending the Blues' Super Rugby Trans-Tasman game against the Waratahs at Eden Park on Saturday.

The schedule mirrors what they'll face in Tokyo, where the Aussies will likely present one of their biggest hurdles in their quest for medals.

Sweeney is conscious of striking that balance between match-hardening his players and being competitive, while keeping some trump cards close to their chests.

"They're always going to be a threat," he says. "That trans-Tasman rivalry is huge.

“You can feel it as soon as they walk into the hotel, there's eyes across the room and everyone's sussing each other out.

"We don't want to expose ourselves six times in a weekend either, so we'll probably try and keep a couple of things up our sleeve.

"But having an actual opposition - and a quality opposition - is timely and massively exciting for us."

Playing on home soil means Sweeney and co-coach Allan Bunting will have access to all 19 hopefuls. On day one, they’re planning to play two different teams for each of the two games.

One such hopeful is 26-year-old Shiray Kaka, who's determined to win selection, after a nightmare run with injury.

In recent years, Kaka has undergone three major surgeries that have sidelined her for 6-9 months at a time.

Now fully healthy and fuelled by the pain of missing out at Rio 2016 - where she and Michaela Blyde were travelling reserves - Kaka is desperate to crack the squad and the sacrifices she's made prove that.

"We are haunted by it," she laughs. "We don't ever want to do that again.

"This time, I've lived away from my husband for six months now, putting babies and stuff on hold to be here today.

"Not having that gold from the Rio Olympics is definitely something that's pushing me."

The 47-game veteran knows what's at stake this weekend, and has resorted to meditation to ensure she remains clear-headed and focused on her task amid a unique squad dynamic.

"There are only 4-5 weeks until the squad is named, that's all that's on my mind really," says Kaka.

"It's definitely in the back of my head and it is a weird sport, where you're calling each other sister, but you're also competing against each other too.

"It's more of a mental battle than physical, to be honest."

Join us for live updates of all of the Black Ferns Sevens and All Blacks Sevens games this weekend