Tenika Willison reflects on beneficial tour to Fiji


“It was an experience, that’s for sure,” Tenika Willison concluded of the Black Ferns Sevens tour of Fiji. 

The Olympic champions’ first outing in 2022 saw them win a tournament in the Super 7s series in Lautoka before a six-match tussle against Fijiana. 

The Black Ferns Sevens were in commanding form at the Super 7s, conceding just one try in six games en route to the title. They defeated Army Army 36-0 in the final with Michaela Blyde scoring two of the six tries.

Fijiana presented a much sterner challenge. Following a 14-12 victory in the first fixture, the Black Ferns Sevens fell to five consecutive defeats; four of those losses were by solitary tries in the most atrocious weather Willison has ever seen.

“We pretty much played Sevens in a pool. For the first four days it was scorching hot and then it rained the whole time. Against Fijiana it was like swimming in a paddock. It was hard to adapt to that, but I feel like we’ll never get that again.”

Tenika Willison

Fijiana were tough opponents, and the Black Ferns Sevens knew what to expect, having beaten them in extra time in the Tokyo Olympics semi-final. They eventually finished with a bronze medal. While the locals were able to call upon stars like Reapi Uluinasau, Ana Naimasi and Alowesi Nakoci, the Black Ferns Sevens were without their most experienced players, who were committed to playing in the first ever Sky Super Rugby Aupiki competition. Willison isn't making excuses. 

"Fijiana have always been strong and I feel like they’ve just found their flow and have the potential to be great.

"They've got threats all across the park. Their ability to play an offload game and trust their speed and running through the mud was really strong.

“They’ve had it pretty tough. Only now are they starting to get the recognition they deserve. It’s so cool to see what they’re doing to grow the game of women’s rugby and open up pathways.” 

Despite defeat, the tour opened pathways and provided valuable lessons for the Black Ferns Sevens who’ll defend their World Cup and Commonwealth Games titles later in the year. 

Kelsey Teneti, Manaia Nuku, Tysha Ikenasio and Grace Kukutai all showed promise on debut. And Willison enjoyed the step up to co-captain alongside Pouri-Lane.

“We flowed pretty well. It’s easy to bounce off each other because we’ve played a lot together. Our decision making was in the moment. Sometimes it only took a look to know whether she or I would speak. There were some cool moments with other leaders stepping up too.

“This was a new team and a young side. Everyone shined a light on their different duties and the off-field connection was really strong. We lacked a bit of on-field connection and that was due to a lack of experience, and trial and error.”

Willison grew up in Taharoa where her parents worked in the steel mill. She moved to Hamilton when she was ten and flourished at Hamilton Girls’ High School, winning a national touch title in 2011 and rugby and sevens honours in 2013. 

Following a player exodus after the 2016 Rio Olympics she was selected for the Black Ferns Sevens. A debut tournament victory in Dubai ranks among her highlights which include a Commonwealth and Olympic Games gold medal. At the Olympics she was the 13th player and appeared in the 36-0 group win against Russia. Three years earlier at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games she got more than she bargained for:

“I was an injury replacement for Kat Whata-Simpkins who got a knee injury. I played about two minutes before the final and then was told I had to play the whole final, all 20 minutes and extra time, it still traumatises me. I’ve never felt that tired. Even now I remember moments and sometimes it stresses me and sometimes it reminds me of how far I can push myself.”


The Black Ferns Sevens are back home at base in Tauranga preparing for their first World Sevens Series tournament in over two years, in Langford at the end of the month. 



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