The New Zealand teams lead their respective World Series competitions, both claiming titles in Cape Town and Hamilton, and the Black Ferns Sevens on a four-tournament winning streak.
The Black Ferns Sevens are excited to see the return of 2013 World Sevens Player of the Year, Kayla Ahki (nee McAlister). The 31-year-old has returned from France with her two children and has her sights set on a second Olympic campaign having been part of the first ever Sevens team to play at the Olympics in 2016. Also returning is Shiray Kaka, who has battled with a series of injuries in recent times but has been part of the Black Ferns Sevens recent victory in Sydney and Cape Town.
Co-Coach Allan Bunting said the return of Ahki and Kaka adds to the experience within the squad, with all but one of the members of the 2016 Olympic team in the running for Tokyo.
“Kayla and Shiray come into the squad and really solidify the depth we have. They have both played at the highest level and have executed what it is we are trying to achieve as a team.
Ahki returns to New Zealand from France where she has been living with her husband, former All Blacks Sevens player Pita, and their two daughters Stella and Camille. She starred for Auckland at December’s TECT National Sevens and last played in the black jersey in Dubai in 2018.
“The game has definitely grown while Kayla has been away but that will be a great challenge for her. She has a competitive attitude and the bigger the game, the more competitive she gets, and she still has that spark.”
For Kaka, her eye will be on firming a spot in the playing squad for Tokyo after going to Rio as a travelling reserve.
“Shiray has had some real challenges over the past couple of years with injuries but she’s gone through that storm and shown some real growth. Both her and Kayla add to our depth and the strong internal competition we have within the squad,” said Bunting.
Click here to see the Black Ferns Sevens squad.
The All Blacks Sevens have added Hawke’s Bay winger Ollie Sapsford and 18-year-old Kitiona Vai, the younger brother of former Blues outside back Melani Nanai, to their roster.
This includes four Investec Super Rugby players for a total of 25 contracted players in the build up to the Olympics.
Sapsford, originally from Mid Canterbury, has a background in AFL and in 2019 played for Hawke’s Bay in the Mitre 10 Cup and TECT National Sevens.
“Ollie played really well for Hawke’s Bay at Nationals and impressed when he came into train with the All Blacks Sevens Development squad. We’re excited to have a winger that can play in the forwards who can be really physical and strong in the air,” said Laidlaw.
Vai, in his first year out of De La Salle College, turned heads in the winning Red Bull Ignite7 team at the end of last year.
“Kiti has genuine x factor. It might take time for him to develop but we know he comes from good pedigree, his dad played for Manu Samoa and we have all seen the talent of his brother,” said Laidlaw.
Click here to see the All Blacks Sevens squad.