Rugby Sevens: New Zealand captain Sarah Hirini announces groundbreaking sabbatical in Japan

Sarah Hirini.
Sarah Hirini. Photo credit: Getty Images

Black Ferns Sevens captain Sarah Hirini will take a short-term sabbatical in Japan at the completion of this year's sevens world series.

Hirini will play in the Taiyo Seimei Women’s Sevens Series 2023 for Mie Women's Rugby Football Club PEARLS (Mie PEARLS).

She'll then return to New Zealand to begin preparations with the Black Ferns for the defence of their Olympic crown at Paris in 2024.

While sabbaticals have been in commonplace in the men's game in New Zealand, Hirini will become the first woman to take a hiatus abroad.

"I am stoked to be able to have the opportunity to head over to Japan and play for the MIE PEARLS," said Hirini. 

"Japan is an amazing country, from their culture to their people. It will be an incredible experience and one which my husband, Connor, and I are exceptionally grateful for.

"This would not be possible without the support from [coach] Cory, my sevens sisters and NZ Rugby, and for that I am incredibly thankful.

Sarah Hirini and Stacey Waaka celebrate their Rugby World Cup success
Sarah Hirini and Stacey Waaka celebrate their Rugby World Cup success. Photo credit: Getty Images

"Playing abroad will allow me to continue to grow as a player, experience a new playing environment, different coaching style and refresh ahead of an exciting year with the Black Ferns Sevens."

Hirini has led a dominant Black Ferns Sevens outfit this season, with their triumph in Hong Kong over the weekend marking their fifth consecutive title, as they sit well clear atop the competition standings.

Black Ferns Sevens coach Cory Sweeney says the sabbatical will be great experience for Hirini, before the 2024 Paris Olympics.

"Sarah is invaluable to our team’s success, both on and off the field," said Sweeney. "She dedicates a huge amount of time to the Black Ferns Sevens jersey.

"This opportunity allows her to reset and refresh, through experiencing a new team environment and culture, which will be a great thing for her and the team ahead of our Olympic campaign."