James Mortimer 15.Jan.2013ZoomFiji
The words (perhaps not quotable) “the winner is rugby!” that signified the Seven’s game inclusion into the Summer Olympics - unchallenged as the biggest sporting event in the world - was always going to signal irrevocable changes to the landscape of the Women’s game.
Investment from High Performance Sport New Zealand allowed for the creation of a fulltime coach and 14 regional sevens resource coaches, but while the Women’s game is accelerating here, with six teams taking part in the recently completed National Sevens, the growth is becoming rapid elsewhere around the world.
Horan, who coached the Bay of Plenty Steamers for three seasons, as well as spending time with the Chiefs and Black Ferns, was able to take a well-deserved break over Christmas, spending time with his family north of Wellington, while heading down to the capital for a wedding.
Good unwind time before getting stuck back into it according to the New Zealand Women’s Sevens coach, especially before heading off to Houston for the second leg of the Women’s series.
It will be a good chance for Horan’s team to show how far they have come.
“The focus is for the individual to show what they have learned during the year and how they have progressed,” Horan told allblacks.com
“I’ve seen that they have had progress, but Houston will be a bit of a showcase of how far we have come in the last 12 months. At the Nationals Sevens (held in Queenstown over the weekend) it was interesting to see how far some of the players have progressed.”
Some would feel that the Women’s Sevens team had a platform in existence already, courtesy of the four-time World Championship winning Black Ferns, but Horan said that while it was a utilised resource, it wasn’t something that had been used extensively.
“We haven’t had to rely on the traditional platforms of the New Zealand Women’s game too heavily,” Horan said.
“If you look at our overall initial squad of 35, there were only ten who had represented the Black Ferns.”
“They’ve (the Black Ferns) have been able to give us a starting point, but we have relied on four or five key girls who have been there and done that (with the Black Ferns), but the importance is to grow that leadership.”
That leadership, now coming into fruition after the first 12 months of grounding, was the fruits of the systems put in place last year, encapsulated by the Go4Gold drive, where the New Zealand Rugby Union travelled the country looking for athletic, highly-motivated and resilient female athletes aged 16 and upwards to join the National Women’s Sevens development programme.
That was where it had all begun says Horan.
“We have a strong platform due to our Go4Gold program and our talent identification systems,” he said.
“We’ve had international tournaments (the New Zealand Women won the Dubai leg last year of the Women’s Series), we’ve had provincial tournaments, and because of that we’ve been able to grow and identify young girls who will be part of our success in the future.”
Horan said another advantage was that due to the Olympic hype, he was getting plenty of time to educate his growing players.
“We’re building, but we’ve got time,” he said.
“The Black Ferns are World Champions, they have an outstanding win loss record, but they haven’t had the time that we are looking to put in to develop where we want to be.”
“The resources behind us are obviously huge, but we are looking to build structures and foundations to support these girls to get to the highest level.”
With the Olympics the ultimate goal in 2016, despite plenty of rugby in between, Horan admitted that the final goal was slightly daunting.
“Obviously in 2016 (at the Olympics) there will be no higher level,” he said.
“So for us at the moment it is about growing and learning, and aspiring to what we want that high level to look like.”
It was an emotional target.
“We have a mix of feelings - excitement and apprehension to be honest,” he said.
“It is going to be a challenge.”
“There are a lot of resources, especially financially, pouring into the Women’s Sevens game around the world, and we are well aware of that,” Horan continued.
“Russia all of sudden have a national Women’s team and are looking strong, when you look at England and their resources, Canada and the Netherlands who are putting specific focus into their female athletes, we will have plenty of powerful opposition.”
“The competition will probably be greater than what the Black Ferns have ever had.”
“For us we are excited, but a lot of it is unknown, and we are wary that other countries are laying the same foundations that we are.”
But for now, Horan and the New Zealand Women’s Sevens team were only worried about the upcoming tournament in Australia, and themselves.
“Our preparation for Houston will be similar to what we did in Fiji and Dubai – just worry about ourselves,” Horan said.
“Work out our foundations that will serve us in years to come.”
“Sure, it is nice to win tournaments, but for us they aren’t our focus, it is about developing systems and cultures, we always want to move forward.”