Black Ferns Sevens in Seventh Heaven, but still work to do
The Black Ferns Sevens are World Series champions for the seventh time and for the first time since 2020 after qualifying for the quarterfinals of the Toulouse Sevens.
On the first of three days at Stade Ernest-Wallon the Black Ferns Sevens secured the title with group victories over Poland 50-0 and USA 31-12.
It was the latter victory that earned a place in the quarters and confirmed Series honours.
Kelly Brazier, Sarah Hirini, Portia Woodman-Wickliffe, and Tyla Nathan-Wong have been part of all seven of the Black Ferns Sevens' successes. Jazmin Felix-Hotham, Mahina Paul, and Jorja Miller taste glory for the first time.
Against the USA the Black Ferns Sevens won the kick-off, stretched to both sides, before Stacey Waaka fended off two defenders and crossed after a minute on the right wing. Woodman-Wickliffe emulated that feat on the left side as the Americans were starved of possession.
When the USA finally secured the ball, they struck immediately when Alex Sedrick strode clear from halfway after receiving an offload in congestion. The Black Ferns Sevens momentarily lapsed. A rare mistake on their own 22 gifted the USA and Alena Olsen caught the defense napping with a sharp dummy.
Impressive rookie Jorja Miller broke the 12-12 stalemate with an epic solo try. Seeking space, she made an angled run from left to right, swatted aside two tacklers, spun past a third, and burst 40 meters clear. A conversion to Nathan-Wong made it 19-12 at halftime.
It was the typically quick initiative of Nathan-Wong that led to the first try after the interval. From a penalty, she tapped immediately at halfway and supplied Hirini who gave in back to Nathan-Wong unmarked.
The moment you get told you are @WorldRugby7s Champs for 2023 🎉#BlackFerns7s | #HSBC7s pic.twitter.com/UYtOsriwTL— NZ Sevens (@nz_sevens) May 12, 2023
Fittingly captain Hirini and Woodman-Wickliffe combined for the last try when Hirini found some space on the edge of the US defense and fired a long ball to Woodman-Wickliffe who burned her opposite on the outside for a 60-metre run-in. Woodman-Wickliffe has scored 226 tries in 194 World Series matches. The Black Ferns have won 32 games in a row.
Poland is competing in the World Series for the first time this season and was no match for the Black Ferns Sevens falling to a 50-0 defeat. The Black Ferns have kept 10 opponents scoreless this season and the margin of victory was their third largest in 2022/23. Colombia was beaten 60-0 in Hong Kong.
The Black Ferns Sevens led 24-0 at halftime and were able to empty the bench and carry on the momentum in the second half.
Hirini, Woodman-Wickliffe, and youngster Mahina Paul (from the bench) each scored twice with Shiray Kaka and Alena Saili also crossing the strip. Risi Pouri-Lane (3) and Nathan-Wong (2) slotted five conversions combined.
Niall Guthrie in her last tournament twice came off the bench for New Zealand. She debuted in 2014. Michaela Blyde, Terina Te Tamaki, and Theresa Fitzpatrick are unavailable for selection. Blyde is the Black Ferns Sevens leading try scorer this season with 45 in six tournaments.
“To do it with a few games up our sleeve is pretty special. It’s a great moment, but in the team, you can never feel the job is done,” Black Ferns sevens coach Corey Sweeney said.
“We’ll celebrate at some point, we’re really stoked with the outcome, but we’ve still got a job to do this weekend.”
The Black Ferns Sevens nearest rival Australia beat Brazil 52-0. In scoring three tries Maddison Levi achieved 50 tries for the season. They later joined the Kiwis in the quarters beating Ireland 33-12 with Levi bagging two more tries.
The Black Ferns Sevens face Canada in their final pool game at 8:21pm NZT Saturday before seeking a sixth consecutive tournament victory in 2022/23.
NEW ZEALAND ARE YOUR SEVENS SERIES CHAMPIONS! 🇳🇿🇳🇿#France7s | #HSBC7s | @nz_sevens pic.twitter.com/6Kx2rdMBDK— World Rugby 7s (@WorldRugby7s) May 12, 2023
The All Blacks Sevens lead the Men’s series by 24 points. An appearance in the final will secure a 14th World Series title. Two wins on Day One have New Zealand a step closer to glory.
In their opening pool match against Canada, they were forced to rally from a 12-10 deficit to prevail 29-12.
New Zealand started briskly with a tactical Moses Leo kick anchoring Canada deep inside their half. Dylan Collier scored from a lineout after Akuila Rokolisoa exploited a hole on the short side.
Rokolisoa was rampant early and when he split two defenders and jogged 25 meters New Zealand had doubled their lead.
Canada rallied bravely and David Richard, capped three times in fifteens, scored an outstanding try dashing 70 meters after swooping upon a loose ball. A brave chase and tackle by Brady Rush made the conversion tougher.
Canada took a shock led to the break when burly Phil Berna offloaded to Josiah Morra close to the line.
Regan Ware scored six seconds after halftime. Canada allowed a kick-off by Rokolisoa to bounce, and Ware was alert and urgent.
Rokolisoa had a hand in the All Blacks fourth try when he lobbed a bounce pass to the wing of Sione Molia who easily beat his immediate defender with swift footwork.
Roderick Solo had the last say when he jinked by two grasping tacklers and sprinted 60 metres.
Kenya didn’t prove to be as challenging, the All Black Sevens winning 31-5 with Kenya scoring their only try with a minute left. The All Black Sevens scored five through Che Clarke, Ware, Solo, and Leo. Rokolisoa kicked two conversions and has 340 points in 56 matches this season. Tepaea Savage from Waikato added another conversion.
New Zealand faces Uruguay in their final pool match on Saturday night at 10:43pm (NZ time).
The All Blacks Sevens have won 14 matches in a row but will be annoyed by their lack of discipline which allowed Canada to stay in the fight. Canada has underperformed this season residing in 14th place on the table.
Tim Mikkelson, 36, is in his 100th international tournament. He debuted in December 2007 in South Africa. He has scored 235 World Series tries and hasn’t featured for New Zealand since the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
Haka for the Centurion 🖤#Mikkelson100 pic.twitter.com/c8evO7eqRS— NZ Sevens (@nz_sevens) May 12, 2023