Dubai Rugby Sevens: Black Ferns may be missing key stars but are still primed to shine

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A title defence is never easy, no matter how gifted or complete a squad is.

But each year starts from zero and, whether a team fails or succeeds, everyone is back to square one, dreaming of tournament victory and World Rugby Sevens series glory.

For defending champions New Zealand, they are back in Dubai bidding for their fifth title in nine years and enter this weekend hungry to avenge a third-place finish in the series opener in Glendale in October.

Co-managers Cory Sweeney and Allan Bunting have been building for the new season since July at their base in Tauranga – three hours south of Auckland – in a bid to sharpen the skillset and overall conditioning for the gruelling year ahead.

“It’s a privilege to come to Dubai. we love coming here and we’ve had good success here. Every time we put that jersey on, the girls are out there to do their very best, and we’ll do everything we can to win,” said Sweeney.

The World Rugby World Sevens Series has grown from six to eight tournaments for this season, meaning a busy build-up for the Black Ferns heading into the Tokyo Olympics in July.

The new structure will bring out the best in the coaching team, with the ability to maximise their coaching knowledge, skills and leadership in what will be a busy campaign.

Coming into a title defence will always bring elements of pressure, especially against impressive outfits like Australia and USA, but Bunting believes it’s back to square one and every side will be dreaming of the same goal – winning in Dubai.

“We’ve been together for four months. It’s been long, but it’s about eight tournaments and getting to that white point. Holistically, being where we want to be for the Olympics,” said Bunting.

“We definitely want to do our best. We won it last year. But it’s back to zero so we need to go out and try to win it again. It’s game by game for us and focusing on our process and the outcome taking care of itself.

“It’s long but we’re lucky to do what we love. It doesn’t take too much motivating. We mix it up and do some bits outside of rugby and enjoying the journey and energising the mind.”

Without injured stars Portia Woodman and two-time World Player of the Year Michaela Blyde to inspire them to a fifth victory in the UAE, Sweeney is confident they have plenty of leaders and class to step up in two marquee players’ absence.

“We’ve got a fantastic group of players and leaders. Twenty three players who train just as hard as the Michaela’s and Portia’s of the group. Where there are injuries, there is an opportunity for other players to step up,” said Sweeney.

“Michaela, Portia and Sarah are at home training really hard and they look really good. It gives them an opportunity to refresh in some ways. It’s a great invitational for others to step up and perform.”

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