Australian Women’s Sevens coach John Manenti has labelled New Zealand as favourites ahead of the HSBC Dubai Sevens this weekend.
The Black Ferns have looked virtually unstoppable this year, sweeping titles at the Commonwealth Games and the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco, as well as securing victory at the USA Sevens in Glendale two weeks ago.
Even without their prolific Portia Woodman – who scored 43 tries last season – the Black Ferns are still sprinkled with talent across the field and have the likes of World Rugby Sevens Player of the Year Michaela Blyde to help inspire them to a fourth victory in the UAE.
“New Zealand are right to be favourites. I think their consistency over the last 12 months has been significant. They are well and truly entitled to be favourites,” said Manenti speaking ahead of the HSBC Dubai Sevens this weekend.
“The responsibility lies with us and the other teams to take the crown off them. They have speed and skill across the park. I definitely feel the other teams have progressed.
“Whoever gets the opportunity to play them has to be really consistent for 14 minutes and take their chances if they are to beat them. It’s fantastic that someone is setting the standards.”
Manenti’s side were head and shoulders above their rivals when winning in Dubai 12 months ago and have a point to prove after a disappointing fifth place finish at the US Sevens two weeks ago.
“We want to be that team. If we want to be that team then we have to beat them at some stage. We need to keep working on the benchmark that they are setting,” he said.
“We have challenges in the fact that a lot of our senior players are not back from injuries, but that gives us an opportunity to blood some young girls and bring them into the mix.”
Youngsters Sariah Paki (17) and Lily Dick (18) have earned the chance to shine on the grand stage after stellar campaigns in the Aon University 7s competition for Macquarie University and the University of Queensland respectively.
With the way both girls performed in the Oceania 7s in Fiji two weeks ago, they are certain to be stars of the future.
“They are wonderful to work with, very enthusiastic. They came through Aon programme. We sent them to the Oceania competition and they played very well in Fiji,” he said.
“They proved they are tracking well. It’s another step up but we are confident in them. It’ll be exciting to get this first taste of World Rugby for them.”
And if Manenti’s side are to retain their crown and return to the top of the Sevens circuit, they will need the experienced Alicia Quirk to be at her immaculate best.
The 26-year-old has only returned to full fitness after recovering from a knee injury and will add much needed magic to the backline following injuries to key stars Emma Tonegato and Emilee Cherry.
“It’s great to have Alicia back. She’s been here in Dubai many times. She was desperate to come cause she missed out last year when we won. She wants to make an impact on the team,” Manenti said.
“She brings a great balance and her analysis and knowledge of opposition is key to us.”
Australia side will face England, China and USA in the battle to top Pool B.
The annual Emirates Airline Rugby Long Lunch saw a record number of rugby fans enjoy an afternoon of entertainment from former internationals Ali Williams and Austin Healey.
The ex-New Zealand and England stars took part in the event, as part of the annual build-up to the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens, with over 850 people turning up for the Long Lunch at Dubai’s Crowne Plaza in Festival City last Thursday.
The event is part of the excitement ahead of the Sevens, taking place from November 29 to December 1.
Tickets are now on sale and all prices include 5 per cent VAT, meaning buying tickets in advance will save you money.
Taking place at The Sevens Stadium, excited fans can purchase their tickets online at www.dubairugby7s.com or at selected Costa outlets, selected Premier Inns and selected MMI outlets.
Ticket prices (general admission) are:
Thursday, November 29 – free admission; Friday, November 30 – in advance Dh315, on the day Dh420; Saturday, December 1 – in advance Dh315, on the day Dh420.
Season tickets (Friday and Saturday) – in advance Dh525, on the day Dh630. Children under 12 receive free tickets all weekend.
Special reserved seating and hospitality packages are available – visit: www.dubairugby7s.com.
It took the Springbok Sevens until the very last game of the final tournament of the 2017/18 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series to clinch the overall title for a second consecutive season, and that endurance will again be needed by the squad if they want to maintain their competitive streak and gun for a third successive title.
That is the opinion of Chris Dry, the squad’s most experienced member, as the Blitzboks started their preparations for the next edition of the world showpiece this week.
The 2018/19 series kicks off in Dubai on 30 November and finish in Paris on 2 June 2019, and the defending HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series champions are back at their base in Stellenbosch, getting ready for another strong start.
Dry, who played a whopping 309 matches in 64 tournaments for his country, missed eight of the 10 tournaments last season and can’t wait to get back onto the playing field and push for a place in the team for the Dubai event.
“We won in Dubai last year and then I snapped my knee ligaments in Cape Town a week later, and that was the season for me,” Dry said.
“Since that, I have been working on my rehabilitation. At first I had hoped to be fit for the Rugby World Cup Sevens in July, but unfortunately I missed out on that too. I am ready and fit right now and will be pushing the rest of the guys really hard to get back into that starting team.
“I really missed working with these guys and I am delighted to be back in the groove with them.”
Dry has the opportunity to move past Frankie Horne’s record of 68 appearances during the 2018/19 season, but that is not a driving force for the big forward.
“Frankie played in 68 consecutive tournaments and that is something that will not be eclipsed soon. For me it is all about getting back into the team and contributing,” said Dry, who added that the pre-season, which he described as “pretty tough”, is normally about building endurance and strength.
“Our bodies will be hurting – in fact, we are hurting already, but we all know this is what is needed. It is going to be a huge couple of months for us before the series starts again and we will be pushed hard. All of us are looking forward to the season and we are pretty excited, although we know there will be some pain coming our way.”
World Rugby Sevens Series 2018-19
Dubai, UAE 30 November-1 December, 2018
Cape Town, South Africa 8-9 December, 2018
Hamilton, New Zealand 26-27 January, 2019
Sydney, Australia 2-3 February, 2019
Las Vegas, USA 1-3 March, 2019
Vancouver, Canada 9-10 March, 2019
Hong Kong, Hong Kong 5-7 April, 2019
Singapore, Singapore 13-14 April, 2019
London, England 25-26 May, 2019
Paris, France 1-2 June, 2019
A number of dual-contracted players are still involved with unions and will return to Stellenbosch once their seasons are over. The list includes Stedman Gans, Heino Bezuidenhout, JC Pretorius (Blue Bulls), Zain Davids, Angelo Davids (Western Province), Muller du Plessis and Mfundo Ndhlovu (Sharks).