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New Zealand names Rugby Sevens teams for Tokyo Olympics

Xinhua | Updated: 2021-07-02 17:21
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WELLINGTON -- Two experienced teams were announced on Friday by New Zealand Rugby and the New Zealand Olympic Committee for the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Both men's and women's sides go into the Games with a world No 1 ranking and will be eyeing a place on the podium.

The women's team features seven players who claimed silver at the 2016 Rio Games, while six men will be returning for their second Olympics.

The men's team is rich in experience, with co-captain Tim Mikkelson the most capped sevens player in the game's history. He is 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 traveling 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 the 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's team is in Pool A at the Olympics along with Australia, Argentina and South Korea. Their campaign begins on July 26.

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 gold 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's team is in Pool A and will come up against Britain, Kenya and the Russian Olympic Committee, with competition beginning on July 29.

NZOC CEO Kereyn Smith extended her congratulations to the athletes.

"We're thrilled to name two extremely strong and competitive sevens teams 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." 

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