A couple of experienced players have been drafted into the Taranaki women's sevens squad for tomorrow's central region tournament in Palmerston North.
Laura Lobb has represented Manawatu in sevens but has returned home, while Claire Richardson has been a regular in the Otago side and has also returned home from university.
Their inclusion is a boost for coach Brendan Haami, who needs his side to finish in the top two to qualify for the national tournament in Queenstown next month.
"We're a pretty young side and I would say three-quarters of the girls are under-21," he said. "We're got a few 16-year-old girls in there."
Haami expects stiff competition at the tournament, which will also feature women's teams from Manawatu, Hawke's Bay and Wellington.
He was, however, confident Taranaki could foot it with most of their opposition having made the final at their previous tournament, although they lost heavily to Manawatu.
"They were pretty well drilled and have a lot of experience," he said. "But we're happy with our progress and we've done as much as we can."
New Zealand sevens rep Lauren Burgess, fresh from winning the first leg of the IRB world series in Dubai, will captain the squad, which includes pre-Olympic national GO4Gold programme members Michaela Blyde and Gayle Broughton.
Despite Haami having concerns about his squad's lack of experience, he said the players had good "spatial awareness" on the field and their "game understanding" was improving rapidly.
The former New Zealand Maori, Hurricanes and Taranaki halfback said he was "loving" the role, although he had a few reservations at first. After coaching at secondary school level, Haami was encouraged to coach the women by Taranaki Rugby development manager Jono Phillips. "He told me if I really wanted to test myself as a coach I should try coaching the women's team because they ask a lot of questions and really test you," he said.
TARANAKI WOMEN'S SEVENS: Brooke Sim, Baidin-Lee Munro-Smith, Neesha Barrett, Lauren Burgess (captain), Alice Marshall, Gayle Broughton, Michaela Blyde, Laura Lobb, Jessie Fowell, Aleisha Henry, Claire Richardson, Victoria McCulloch.
- Taranaki Daily News
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