Olympic sevens dream drives Alexis Tapsell

Alexis Tapsell didn't walk away from being a national touch representative just to get her passport inked, travel to exotic locations and have her wardrobe stacked with free sports gear.

The 27-year-old, yesterday named in the New Zealand women's squad for the World Cup tournament in Moscow this month, had bigger expectations. Winning gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics is the top priority.

The chance to play at the Olympics proved so enticing that Canterbury's Tapsell ditched touch, the sport she played for more than a decade, and there has had no reason to regret the change.

Since debuting at the Canterbury regional sevens tournament last year she has played a world series tournament in Amsterdam and been bestowed with a range of clothing and training products thanks to the New Zealand Rugby Union's sponsors.

She expects more code-hoppers ahead of the Olympics.

"With touch, the players pay for themselves - everywhere you went it was pretty much player-paid and that is just the way it is," she said.

"With sevens we get everything paid for and there is a lot more you can do in terms of travelling. The Olympics are our long-term goal - not to take anything away from the World Cup, obviously that the is the main focus - to get to the Olympics and experience that."

New Zealand womens' coach Sean Horan recently revealed about 60 per cent of the 28 players used in his team's opening five significant tournaments were athletes from other codes such as touch, rugby league, soccer and netball. The majority had never played rugby.

The prospect of winning gold at Rio has changed the sevens landscape and Tapsell, who plays hooker, is happy to be part of it.

Unlike some of her team-mates, she is no stranger to rugby.

She first played at school and played for the Christchurch club for two seasons. Her ex-husband is former All Blacks wing Caleb Ralph and her brother-in-law is former New Zealand Maori and Waikato loose forward Dion Muir.

"The transition from touch to sevens has been pretty good," Tapsell said.

"It is the same sort of game in terms of looking for space and that sort of thing. The only thing is that the contact and obviously the set-piece stuff."

All Blacks scrum coach Mike Cron has given technical advice on the set-pieces and the players have been expected to immerse themselves in strength and conditioning programmes for five days a week.

Getting free travel and sponsors' products also comes at a price. When Horan takes charge at training he shows little mercy.

One of his specialties is to put the women through "honey badger" sessions.

The sessions, which can require the squad simulating up to six games in a single session, are named after the tough creature that is renowned for its tenacious ability in a scrap.

"It's horrible. You can start to feel delirious," Tapsell said. "It's awful - yes, it can be pretty tough."


New Zealand World Cup squads:

Women: Kelly Brazier, Sarah Goss, Vaine Greig, Honey Hireme, Linda Itunu, Huriana Manuel, Kayla McAlister, Tyla Nathan-Wong, Alexis Tapsell, Selica Winiata, Renee Wickliffe, Portia Woodman

Men: Kurt Baker, Tomasi Cama, Scott Curry, Sam Dickson, DJ Forbes, Bryce Heem, Gillies Kaka, Tim Mikkelson, Waisake Naholo, Lote Raikabula, David Raikuna, Sherwin Stowers

The Press