Australia ready to step up and challenge Black Ferns at Dubai Rugby Sevens

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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.

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