On the eve of the return of the Sydney Sevens to Allianz Stadium, Australian women’s co-captain Demi Hayes has declared their trans-Tasman rivalry the most competitive in world rugby.
The trans-Tasman foes are once again neck and neck in this year’s World Series tour, with the Black Ferns opening up a four-point lead over the reigning champions by taking out last week’s tournament in Hamilton.
After Hayes’ side suffered a shock loss against the USA in the semi-finals, Sarah Hirini’s side took full advantage of Australia’s absence by claiming the final easily to move to 58 points on the World Series standings.
The victory gave the Black Ferns the perfect sign-off across the ditch, with the World Series pulling New Zealand from the list of destinations going forward.
With just four tournaments left to run, Australia can ill-afford to lose any more ground on their Kiwi rivals if they want to grab bragging rights heading into next year’s Olympic year with both nations winning three World Series titles apiece over the past six campaigns.
“I think it is (the most competitive),” Hayes said when asked if the rivalry was the most competitive in world rugby.
“We always come up against them in a semi-final or final … It always is a good rivalry.
“We love playing the best and that’s all we want.
“To be the best you have to play the best. If we’re beating them, that’s the best we can do.”
Hirini meanwhile said both nations were driving the game forward.
“It’s amazing and it has been like this right since when I debuted in 2012,” Hirini said.
“It’s pretty amazing for both teams to be very successful and competitive every year.
“It’s obviously shown in the World Series results, it’s either us or them winning it at the end of the year.
“When I look at it, we want to beat them. But they’ve helped drive the game forward, they have helped change things in women’s Sevens.”
Both nations have named strong sides for the Sydney Sevens, with Australian coach Tim Walsh naming an unchanged side.
John Manenti, meanwhile, has made one change, recalling Darcy Lancaster for former Australian track star Trae Williams.
Regular captain Nick Malouf remains sidelined with an injury, while Matt Gonzalez is also sidelined.
Manenti, whose side have slipped to seventh on this year’s season standings after claiming their maiden World Series crown last year, said it was vital his team take the opportunity of performing in their backyard.
“I think it’s important for us as a program to sort of show that we’re progressing and we’re improving, and we’re working hard to have our place at the table in rugby in Australia,” he said.
Australia has a tough pool ahead of them, with Manenti’s men grouped alongside last weekend’s tournament champions, Argentina, while Great Britain and Canada are no easy beats either.
Livewire Maurice Longbottom shapes as the key, with the Indigenous star the last remaining member of the remaining side that beat the Blitzboks in 2018 to take out the Sydney tournament.
“Yeah, that was pretty special,” Longbottom reflected.
“Something that will be with me for a long time having family and friends there with that game, and I think we both were 30-nil or 31-nil, boys and girls, so that was pretty special. We’ll be looking to replicate that this weekend.”
Manenti was Walsh’s right-hand man on that spectacular Sunday at the old Allianz Stadium and the Australian men’s coach, who took the women to the Tokyo Olympics, said the key was staying calm and focusing on their defence.
“It was incredible that both teams won at home,” he said.
“It’s something you dream of as players and as coaches, as an organization.
“We’ve got to be careful not to put too much pressure on ourselves to try and replicate that.
“But there was a calmness around the group on that day, on that weekend, that everyone knew their roles and everyone knew their jobs and they just went about their business and obviously nobody was trying to think about keeping teams scoreless or all those things. But the old adage, defense wins. So if your defense is on top, both programs have got some pretty impressive attacking weapons. I think I can say for both teams, if we’re defending more, we’re going to be in the fight.”
Charlotte Caslick (Co-captain), Demi Hayes (Co-captain), Madison Ashby, Lily Dick, Dominique Du Toit, Tia Hinds, Alysia Lefau-Fakaosilea, Maddison Levi, Teagan Levi, Faith Nathan, Sariah Paki, Bienne Terita, Sharni Williams
Henry Hutchison, Stu Dunbar, Dietrich Roache, Tim Clements, Henry Paterson, Josh Turner, Dally Bird, Maurice Longbottom, Nathan Lawson, James Turner, Ben Marr, Simon Kennewell, Darby Lancaster
Friday January 27
Australia Women v Brazil Women, 1:50pm
Australia Women v Spain Women, 8:03pm
Saturday, January 28
Australia Women v Ireland Women, 1:56pm
Friday January 27
Australia Men v Great Britain Men, 4:34pm
Saturday, January 28
Australia Men v Canada Men, 11:12am
Australia Men v Ireland Men, 5:17pm
Full schedule: Click here
How to watch: BeIN Sports
New Zealand (58), Australia (54), USA (50), Ireland (38), France (34)
New Zealand (63), USA (61), Argentina (59), South Africa (57), Samoa (55), Australia (52, 7th)