Why Tasman rivals lead Sevens title race
World champions New Zealand and their trans-Tasman rivals Australia have set the pace on the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series this season, claiming all four titles between them with Canada the only other nation to reach a Cup final.
New Zealand have reached every final – winning in Atlanta and China and losing to Australia in Dubai and Sao Paulo – and so take a slender two-point lead into the last round, meaning a place in the final should be enough to retain their World Series crown.
With the Series title race expected to go right down to the wire in Amsterdam, we take a look at the statistics to see how New Zealand and Australia compare to each other.
In the 2012/13 Series Australia scored an average of 15.8 points per game and conceded 11.2 points. This season that has improved to 23.5 and 7.2 respectively.
Tim Walsh’s side now score 50 per cent more tries on average per match and they also now average a try every 58 seconds of possession, down from 80 last season. Australia also now concede a try on average every 177 seconds of possession, almost a minute longer than last season.
New Zealand also improved their statistics, but not as significantly as their neighbours. The world champions this season have scored an average of 29 points per match (up from 24.3) and conceded just 6.6 points (down from 7.3).
Twice as effective
They score a try on average every 54 seconds of possession (down from 57 seconds in 2012/13) and concede one every 198 seconds (up from 151 seconds) of possession, so continue to lead the way on the Series.
Australia currently boast the top try scorer in the 2013/14 Series in Emilee Cherry, the IRB Women’s Sevens Player of the Year nominee having touched down 24 times. New Zealand boast two in the top four with another nominee Kayla McAlister (20) and Portia Woodman (19).
With a new coach in Walsh and a move to a centralised programme at Narrabeen, Australia captain Sharni Williams can quickly put her finger on the reason for her side’s improvements this season.
“The difference from last year is the commitment the girls have taken in moving to Sydney away from family, friends and jobs as part of the new centralised Sevens programme. This has enabled us to train at Narrabeen four times a week and perfect our knowledge of the game on and off the field.
Never settle for second best
Her New Zealand counterpart Huriana Manuel, one of a select few to hold World Cup winners medals in both Sevens and Fifteens, puts their continued success down to the lessons they have learnt, the culture they build and the desire to never stand still.
“I feel that we have a learned a lot more since last year and we are taking responsibility for a lot of things,” she explained. “Last year we relied a lot on the leaders or management to get us across the line, whereas the girls now are taking ownership of this programme. We are definitely a different team from last year.
“We are not going to settle for what we did last year or what we have been doing in previous tournaments, we always have to raise that bar and keep pushing the boundaries and keep testing ourselves.
“We go into every tournament knowing that the other countries are improving due to resources and the money and time spent together because a lot of them are centralised now. We are aware of all that but we can’t let that get in the way of what we want to do and our goals and vision.”
New Zealand became the first to unite both the Sevens and Fifteens World Cups with their success in Moscow last year, and Williams believes their neighbours are relishing the challenge that Australia and other teams are now posing to them.
“To be fair New Zealand has been setting the standard in women’s rugby for a long time. But now teams are starting to stand up and match them, which they probably like!” added Williams.
“There has been a lot of funding and interest in Rugby Sevens and more girls are switching to the sport. This obviously means better talent and a greater push for teams to compete at higher levels as we head towards the Olympics in two years’ time.”
The IRB Women’s Sevens World Series finale will be streamed live from Amsterdam on 16-17 May on wsws.irb.com. Follow us on Twitter @irbwomens.
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