Two strong, experienced sevens teams have today been announced by New Zealand Rugby and the New Zealand Olympic Committee for the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Both sides go into the Games with a World number one ranking and will be eyeing a place on the medal dais in just a few weeks’ time.
The women’s team features seven players who claimed a silver medal at the Rio Games, while six men will be returning for their second Olympic Games.
The New Zealand Men’s Rugby Sevens team is;
Tim Mikkelson (c) – Waikato
Scott Curry (c) – Bay of Plenty
Dylan Collier – Waikato
Tone Ng Shiu – Auckland
Sam Dickson – Bay of Plenty
Andrew Knewstubb – Horowhenua Kapiti
Ngarohi McGarvey-Black – Bay of Plenty
Sione Molia – Counties Manukau
Kurt Baker – Hawke’s Bay
Joe Webber – Bay of Plenty
Etene Nanai-Seturo – Waikato
Regan Ware – Bay of Plenty
Travelling reserves: William Warbrick, Caleb Clarke, Amanaki Nicole
The non-travelling reserves are: Akuila Rokolisoa, Trael Joass, Kitiona Vai, Vilimoni Koroi, Brady Rush, Oliver Sapsford, Moses Leo & Leroy Carter
The men’s team is rich in experience, with co-captain Tim Mikkelson the most capped sevens player in the game’s history. He’s joined by Scott Curry and Sam Dickson who have more than 50 World Series tournament appearances each.
Their experience is complimented by young talent, including Chiefs’ outside back Etene Nanai-Seturo and travelling reserve Will Warbrick, who was discovered at the Ignite7 talent identification tournament in 2018.
Coach Clark Laidlaw said it was the toughest team selection he has been involved in.
“Going to Olympics is the pinnacle of four or five years work. We were conscious of that as coaches and selectors, so we made sure we were really clear on how we want to play the game, where the players were at, and picked the best team to go forward.”
Laidlaw highlighted the need for a versatile squad.
“When you’ve only got 12 players for one tournament, and it could be 40 degrees with high humidity, having players who can rotate and share the load throughout a weekend and still nail their core role is important. We’ve selected backs who can change positions and that is genuinely important.”
Laidlaw also stressed the importance of the entire squad continuing to prepare for the games.
“We don’t usually name a team a month out from a tournament, and we’ve got some players that got dinged up a little bit in the weekend. All the players in our contracted group need to continue to prepare as if they are going to play and in all the conversations we’ve had, they certainly understand that,” said Laidlaw.
The men are in Pool A at the Olympics and will play Australia, Argentina and South Korea, kicking off on July 26.
The New Zealand Women’s Rugby Sevens team is;
Portia Woodman – Northland
Sarah Hirini © – Manawatu
Ruby Tui – Counties Manukau
Tyla Nathan Wong – Northland
Theresa Fitzpatrick – Auckland
Stacey Fluhler – Waikato
Michaela Blyde – Bay of Plenty
Alena Saili – Bay of Plenty
Risaleaana Pouri-Lane – Bay of Plenty
Kelly Brazier – Bay of Plenty
Gayle Broughton – Taranaki
Shiray Kaka – Waikato
Travelling reserves: Tenika Willison, Jazmin Hotham, Terina Te Tamaki
The non-travelling reserves are: Dhys Faleafaga, Shakira Baker, Cheyelle Robins-Reti, Manaia Nuku & Mahina Paul
More than half the team has Olympic experience, while Shiray Kaka and Michaela Blyde were traveling reserves in 2016. Risaleaana Pouri-Lane has a different Olympic experience, captaining New Zealand to a gold medal at the Buenos Aires Youth Olympic Games in 2018.
Since the 2016 Games, the women’s sevens team has been incredibly dominant, winning 16 out of 22 World Series tournaments, the Sevens World Cup and Commonwealth Games gold.
“The internal competition we have has really driven this group. We’ve got a spine that operates really well who we have massive faith in, but then we’ve got these great young players and players, I describe as hidden warriors, who have been doing a lot of work that you don’t really hear much about. It’s the drive from all our players to make this squad that has made some of these decisions really tough,” said Co-Coach Allan Bunting.
“We’ve recently had a taste of some international sevens and when we played against Australia in Auckland we were off our game. We’ve had to evolve, we went back, simplified our game and narrowed our focus. The next step is the Olympics and that’s what a lot of these players have been dreaming of since 2016.”
The women are in Pool A and will come up against Russia OC, Great Britain and Kenya, with competition starting on July 29.
NZOC CEO Kereyn Smith extended her congratulations to the athletes.
“We’re thrilled to name two extremely strong and competitive sevens team today. I’d like to acknowledge all the athletes and support staff because we know a huge amount of work has gone into getting you to this point,” said Smith.
“New Zealanders are extremely passionate about rugby sevens and we can’t wait to watch both the men’s and women’s teams take to the field in Japan with the fern proudly displayed on their chests.”