There will be 12 women’s teams competing at this weekend’s 2017 Bayleys National Sevens at Rotorua, an increase from 10 last year and reflecting the growth of the game around the country.
The girls competition was just as competitive as the boys at last month’s Condor 7s national secondary schools tournament and it could be a similar story at this weekend’s nationals if all the favoured teams fire in the women's competition.
With a balance of youth and experience, last year’s runners-up Wellington should be in the mix on day two.
Last year Manawatu beat Central Zone neighbours Wellington 26-19 in the Women’s Cup final, with Black Ferns Sevens and Wellington player Kat Whata-Simpkins winning the Anna Richards Trophy as the Women’s Player of the Tournament.
This weekend Whata-Simpkins returns to captain Wellington, who head into the tournament with high hopes of performing well.
“Every tournament we approach we are always looking to improve with the intention of winning as well, “Whata-Simpkins said. “For this year’s nationals we’d like to take it a step further from our second placed finish in 2016 and our ultimate goal is to take it out.”
At the recent BoP tournament Wellington joined seven other teams that will also be at nationals, including defending champions Manawatu and perennial powerhouse Auckland, whom they meet in pool play on day one.
Wellington won two and lost two of their four games, missing out to home side Bay of Plenty and Auckland and beating North Harbour and Waikato. They also beat Taranaki by default.
“It was a good way to prepare for nationals, a week out, and we took a lot away from that tournament with our teamwork and combinations and hopefully we can execute some of things that we would like to work on this week going into nationals.”
The win against Waikato (21-17) was in the Plate final. “That particular game was a come-from-behind win for us,” explained Whata-Simpkins, “we were down by two tries in the first half, so for the girls to dig deep and come back from what could have been a loss was really impressive. Especially from our young girls who really stepped up in those final moments of the game.”
A feature of Wellington’s women’s sevens squad this summer is the group of young players who will be making their National Sevens debuts, including several who were still at school last year, and some still at school at St Mary’s College.
Whata-Simpkins. who was playing for New Zealand at Dubai at about the same time that St Mary’s was winning the national Condors title, is enthused. “It was exiting playing alongside the young girls during last weekend’s tournament and will be exciting seeing them perform out there at the nationals.
“To have that many girls in the Wellington system is good for growing the programme and for the future.”
This theme will be replicated throughout all squads, with a group that played well at the Condors now seeking to grab their opportunities at Rotorua.
The majority of the Black Ferns squad will be playing as well, further enhancing the quality and evenness of the tournament.
Whata-Simpkins agrees. “All the teams are looking quite solid, but If we were to be looking at the strong contenders then the likes of Manawatu, Auckland who were looking great up at Tauranga and Counties Manukau will come out strong.”
Wellington is in Pool A, alongside Auckland, Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay. On day one the play Hawke’s Bay at 11.05am, Auckland at 1.45pm and Bay of Plenty at 5.15pm.
The women’s Nationals was first contested in 1998 but took a decade long hiatus between 2003-2012 before being contested again in 2013. Since then Manawatu (three times) and Auckland (once) are the only two sides to have won.
The full list of past winners is: 1998 – Auckland; 1999 – Wellington; 2000 – Bay of Plenty; 2001 – Auckland; 2002 – Canterbury; 2013 – Manawatu; 2014 – Manawatu; 2015 – Auckland; 2016 – Manawatu.