New Zealand Women's Sevens make a statement at China7s
James Mortimer 05 Apr 2014 IRB
With assistant coach Alan Bunting taking charge of the team, it looked very much business as usual for the defending series champions.
Pleasant conditions at Guangzhou University Town Central Stadium saw New Zealand play with their usually expressive approach, willing and able to take on the forward exchanges, but often possession swung wide to exploit one-on-one match ups, which rarely their Pool A opponents were able to counter.
It suggested a clear and obvious adaptation of strategy.
Canada and Russia, third and fourth on the standings respectively, won both their matches the United States and France, before playing out a thrilling 12-12 draw in the final Pool C match.
Australia, joint series leaders with New Zealand with 56 points, matched their rival’s efforts in putting on a half century against Ireland (50-0), while Fiji, despite upsetting England, weren’t able to compete with the Aussie women losing 24-5.
The day began with 2013 NZ Women’s Sevens Player of the year Portia Woodman scoring a double against Brazil, but was outdone by fellow Black Fern Carla Hohepa who scored a hat-trick of tries against China in the following match.
Woodman however made an impression against Spain, scoring three tries (six for the day) to confirm her place as one of New Zealand’s most dangerous weapons.
China, the enterprising and spritely home team, lost to Spain (12-7) and Brazil (22-17) to walk from the first day proud despite being given a harsh lesson by a polished New Zealand.
Interim coach Allan Bunting – with the assistant Women’s Sevens mentor taking over from head coach Sean Horan – was happy with proceedings as the trip to the world's most populous country had multiple goals.
“We are still building our depth,” the experienced Sevens coach said, who played an integral role in the Go4Gold talent identification program.
“Yet at the same time, the reason why I am here is part of a contingency plan for our coaching team.”
At this point in the development of Sevens for the New Zealand Women results are part of the desire, but a deeper focus is to ensure that competition for places is healthy, while continuing to train the athletes to the rigours of an international Sevens program.
“We’ve got our experienced girls that are surrounding the younger players; a mix of veterans and enthusiasm has been giving us headaches in selection.”
“For China and other recent tournaments, it has allowed us to move into the high performance culture a lot more.”
Despite being unbeaten, Bunting said that the team had approached China wary of rival team’s adapting to their play.
“We go through phases where teams are defending differently than we are used to,” Bunting said from Guangzhou.
“So as a consequence we have been changing up our style, including going wide a lot. Things are starting to change, teams are not waiting for us like they used to on defence so we need to keep looking at our options.”
Arriving in China has meant that the squad once again has needed to be on top of their preparation, with Bunting saying that this season there has been a fair amount of ownership placed on players.
“They need be really aware of how they can individually prepare, you don’t know where you will be a warming up, it might be on sand in a desert or on the bus on the way to a grandstand,” he said.
Bunting highlighted the efforts of his senior duo in captain Huriana Manuel and Sarah Goss.
“We try to hand them more ownership, they still have heaps to learn but they are doing a great job,” he said.
“If they are doing the basics and playing their roles, then the other girls look up to them, but there is still lots of room of growth.”
The coach in charge said that while Brazil, China and Spain were prepared for as if they were essentially “finals”, the requirement to step up on the second day was imperative.
“The big challenge has been maintaining standards, we must now put today behind us,” Bunting said.
“For us no-one will remember big scores or who we defeated on the opening day.”
The final standings and match ups for Day Two will be released when final confirmation has come from China.
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