Takiwhitu Tutūru provides ideal Olympic preparation

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The tournament emulated the Olympic format, of six matches across three days and players and coaches alike were thrilled with the level of competition.

History was made in the women’s division, with the first ever Moana Pasifika team, who upset the Black Ferns XV in their first fixture on Saturday morning. The experienced side featured sevens specialist Tysha Ikenasio, former Black Fern Mele Hufanga and league internationals Katelyn Vaka’akolo and Shannon Muru.

The Black Ferns XV helped out their sevens sisters, entering a side that brought both speed and physicality across the four matches.

Two-time World Rugby Sevens player of the year Michaela Blyde top scored across the first two days of competition with six tries for the Black team, while young playmaker Risi Pouri-Lane contributed 24 points for the White team.

In the men’s division, both Tonga Invitational and Samoa Barbarians embraced game time as their national sides work towards Olympic qualification at a repechage tournament in Monaco in June.

Vilimoni Koroi top scored with 27 points across three matches for the White team, followed closely by skipper Scott Curry with 26 points, showing off his kicking skills with three conversions.

On Sunday, the All Blacks Sevens and Black Ferns Sevens played at Sky Stadium, with two matches either side of the Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa fixture between the Hurricanes and Crusaders.

The Black Ferns Sevens Black and White went head-to-head in the first match of the day, and it was Blyde who lit up Sky Stadium, with the winger running in three first half tries for Black to lead 17-0 at the break.

White got on the scoreboard courtesy of a Mahina Paul try in the second spell, but Black closed out the match with a long range effort started by Montessa Tairakena and finished by captain Tyla Nathan-Wong.

The All Blacks Sevens teams were so evenly matched that time was up on the clock for half time before the first points was scored. A penalty for team white saw Trael Joass cross from close range for a 5-0 lead at the break.

White controlled possession for long spells in the second half but Black’s defence was up to the task. That was until White formed a rolling maul from a five-metre lineout that saw Sione Molia emerge with a try. Ray Nu’u closed out the match with White’s third try, skipping through the defence to give White a 17-0 victory.

While it was mostly one-way traffic in the first women’s match, Team White brought renewed physicality and urgency in round two creating an enticing encounter. The deadlock was broken five minutes into the match with Theresa Fitzpatrick exploiting an overlap to go in for the Black team.

It was another five minutes before the next scoring play, this time Pouri-Lane put Team White in front with a converted try. The lead was short lived however, Nathan-Wong scoring from the kickoff as she sliced through the White defence and raced away for the points and the victory 12-7.

Waikato speedster Liam Coombes-Fabling opened the scoring for team White in the last match of the day, scooping up a loose ball at the breakdown on half-way and scampering away to score in the corner.

Captaining team White, Molia extended their lead, slicing through the defence on his way to the try line before Nu’u was the beneficiary of some strong counter-ruck work, running in team White’s third try for the 17-0 half time lead.

Team Black’s attack was sparked into action by 18-year-old Fehi Fineanganofo, who made a break from inside his own 22, and got the pass away to Brady Rush for their opening try. Aggressive work at the breakdown from captain Tim Mikkelson saw team Black with a turnover, and Tom Florence closed the gap to 17-12.

Florence had a number of telling runs in the build up to Black’s third try, Rush getting the points to see his side take the lead for the first time in the match.

Coombes-Fabling, who opened the scoring, had the decisive final say, sniping around the breakdown to run away and score under the posts and seal the victory for Team White.

Speaking to SKY after the matches, Black Ferns Sevens co-coach Cory Sweeney reflected on the team’s first tournament in over a year.

“This has been a great steppingstone for the next couple of months. Coming into a stadium, playing six games over three days – I think we are really happy with where we are. We had some good quality competition in the Black Ferns XVs and Moana Pasifika and it’s amazing to have them as part of our journey. We still have some work to do before we get to July but there are lots of take-aways from this both on and off the field.”

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