New Zealand women's sevens start second Olympic journey in Dubai

Portia Woodman will hope to power New Zealand to success on the sevens field in Dubai.
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Portia Woodman will hope to power New Zealand to success on the sevens field in Dubai.

It isn't so much a new chapter, but a new volume for the New Zealand women's sevens team at their first tournament of the new season in Dubai.

With their previous four years firmly behind them, culminating in a silver medal at the Rio Olympic Games, things are starting fresh.

New leadership, with Sean Horan replaced as coach by former assistant Allan Bunting, has been greeted positively by the players, some of which are new to the programme themselves.

Playing in the heat of Dubai, sevens fans will finally get an idea on how volume two of the Olympic gold medal quest will play out.

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Bunting has many injuries to negotiate early on in his tenure as coach, picking a squad including four new faces as they begin the build-up to Tokyo 2020.

"We have quite a few girls at the moment who are recovering from injuries, so availability has been limited," Bunting said.

"That's given us an opportunity to bring a few girls in to the camps. Some of those girls have shone through and shown some real potential, so it's an opportunity to take them to Dubai and show them what the world circuit is about at the moment.

"We'll see how they react and I'm sure they'll go really well."

New Zealand lost to Australia in the Rio Olympics gold medal match, and have gone on a long run without a win against the great rivals, stretching back to February 2015.

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That came after three years of domination, of which much of the core of Bunting's squad were part of.

He's confident they will get back to that in the coming World Rugby Women's Sevens Series.

"With the girls we have now, especially the girls that have experience over the past four years with Sarah Goss as our captain, they've been really supportive through this week.

"They know what we need and we're providing them with real consistency around the rugby and their training. In our time together I think we'll grow as a team and the outcome will take care of itself."

The players are spending more time together as a team than in the past, but not as much as the likes of Australia or England.

Those countries have centralised sevens programmes, which is something New Zealand may do themselves sooner rather than later.

Bunting said that face time with the players is invaluable.

In the lead up to Rio, tensions grew in the squad as the fun New Zealand's programme was known was drowned by the high performance aspects of the game.

Captain Goss said that is something that is swinging back under Bunting.

"We've had a great fresh start," Goss said. "Having those development girls in there has provided that little bit more fun and competitiveness.

"The management team have put in a lot or work to make sure that when we're off the field we're enjoying ourselves, so that's created a great environment over the past few days."

New Zealand take on France, Fiji and Ireland in their Dubai Sevens pool, starting on Thursday afternoon (NZ time).

New Zealand women: Ruby Tui, Shakira Baker, Jordon Webber, Niall Williams, Sarah Goss, Michaela Blyde, Tyla Nathan-Wong, Kelly Brazier, Tenika Willison, Katarina Whata-Simpkins, Portia Woodman, Rebekah Cordero-Tufuga. Travelling reserves: Jess Drummond, Danielle Paenga.

 - Stuff

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