Super Rugby Aupiki: Sevens star Tyla Nathan-Wong eyes return to 'first dream' of Black Ferns XV selection

Black Ferns Sevens star Tyla Nathan-Wong plans to use next year's inaugural Super Rugby Aupiki campaign to push for higher honours in the 15-a-side format.

The Tokyo Olympics gold medallist has committed to the Blues for the women's competition and intends taking every opportunity afforded to pursue her "first dream" of international rugby.

"When I was young and coming through school, and just starting to play rugby, there was no sevens around," she tells Newshub. "The role models I saw playing rugby were in the 15s space, so that was always my first dream - to represent New Zealand in 15s.

"However, sevens came along and piqued my interest, and now I've been a part of it for 10 or so years.

"It's never completely gone away, it's always been something that I wanted to achieve, whether that's next year or a few years' time, it's something I'll keep striving for."

Nathan-Wong, 27, began playing rugby at Lynfield College and made her Black Ferns Sevens debut in 2012, helping them to Olympic silver at Rio 2016 and gold at Tokyo 2021, and Commonwealth Games gold at Gold Coast 2018.

She was named 2015 NZ Sevens Player of the Year and as Ferns goalkicker, she has become second-highest pointscorer on the World Rugby circuit with 1016, behind only Canadian Ghislaine Landry (1356) and just ahead of teammate Portia Woodman (975).

Sevens commitments have limited Nathan-Wong's chances of playing rugby's full format, but she has occasionally turned out at halfback for Northland in Farah Palmer Cup competition.

"For me, it's just about changing environments," she says. 'I've been in this sevens programme for 10 years, so to go somewhere different and give some of my knowledge from the professional environment to some of these players, and also learn from them... 

Michaela Blyde, Ruby Tui and Tyla Nathan-Wong celebrate their Tokyo Olympic gold
Michaela Blyde, Ruby Tui and Tyla Nathan-Wong celebrate their Tokyo Olympic gold. Photo credit: Photosport

"I'm really open to any opportunity that comes my way and if it's the right one at the right time, I'll put my hand up and take it."

Many of Nathan-Wong's sevens colleagues have also signed for Super Rugby Aupiki franchises - several have followed former coach Allan Bunting to the Chiefs 'Manawa', while skipper Sarah Hirini was the first player recruited to the Hurricanes women

"While she was not on the original group of sevens players released for 15s, we were always hopeful and I left a spot open for her," says Blues women's coach Willy Walker. "This is fantastic for us and for Tyla, because she has a passion to play for the Blues and to compete in this first Aupiki competition.

"As well as her outstanding playing skills, Tyla’s experience on and off the field will be invaluable to help guide our young squad."

But Nathan-Wong insists their digression into 15s won't distract the Ferns from their primary goal - retaining their Commonwealth Games crown at Birmingham in July/August, under new coach Cory Sweeney.

"Fortunately, Cory was... not necessarily happy, but he backed me and supported me to put my hand up," she tells Newshub. "To know we've got his support is pretty amazing.

"He could have absolutely said no to a whole bunch of us, but to know he's backing us is awesome."

After their comprehensive defeats against England and France last month, the Black Ferns can probably use all the help they can get in their World Cup defence on home soil next year.

If everything pans out as they hope, the sevens stars face some tough choices and schedule juggling over the next 12 months, but Nathan-Wong plans to take it one day at a time.

"There's some incredible stuff going on in women's rugby next year, with Comm Games and World Cup sevens, but also the 15s World Cup.

"Whatever happens happens, and when it comes around and I have to make that decision, I will."