New Zealand focusing on Dubai Sevens title, the Olympics can wait
Some of the spotlight is on Tokyo Olympics where sevens is set for its second appearance at the Games
Tyla Nathan-Wong says New Zealand’s focus is on retaining their Dubai Rugby Sevens title this weekend, so thoughts about the Olympics can wait.
The 2019-2020 World Sevens Series season will be followed by the Tokyo Olympics, with sevens set for its second appearance at the Games.
New Zealand’s women took silver in Rio in the debut tournament in 2016, and they are aiming for one better next summer.
However, their first thought is on keeping their hands on the Dubai title this weekend, according to their new captain.
“Whenever you come to a tournament that is the end goal – you want to win the tournament, you don’t come here to participate,” said Nathan-Wong, whose side beat Canada in the final 12 months ago.
“Being the defending champions, there is always going to be pressure on us, but the one thing we can control is internal pressure.”
New Zealand were beaten to gold in Rio by Australia. The Australians have won three of the past six tournaments in Dubai, but their recent form has been mixed, having finished fourth on the series last season.
Sharni Williams, the Australia captain, says they have brought a relatively inexperienced side to the UAE with a view to building for Tokyo.
“We have some fresh young faces to really hype up our team,” Williams said.
“It is an opportunity for them to showcase what they are about, and what they can offer for the Olympics to come."
New Zealand’s men are also defending Dubai champions. Tony Philp, New Zealand Rugby’s high-performance sevens manager, said the event is the start of an important season for the abridged game.
“We love coming here, and we know it is the start of a big year for us,” Philp said.
“Of course, we know the Olympics is on at the end of the year, and we are really looking forward to that opportunity.
“Rio taught us a lot. We have been building over the past four years to ensure we are in as good shape for the games as possible.
“The Olympics is a tough world. For us, we know that, and have accepted that.
“Anyone on their day can win that tournament. We will be doing our very best to ensure we achieve the goal we are after.”
No country has better Olympic pedigree than the United States, even if they are generally unheralded in rugby.
Their recent form suggests they should be able to better the ninth placed finish they had in Rio when the tournament takes place in Tokyo.
“We are in a very different place now,” Mike Friday, the USA coach, said.
“We are more than capable of medalling, but we are more than capable of finishing ninth as well.
“That is nothing to do with us, it is to do with the nature of this competition.
"We are under no illusion that any one of these countries can win a medal. It is ridiculously competitive.”
Updated: December 4, 2019 09:55 PM