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Sisters win the race to Rio - Tyla Nathan-Wong

Tyla 7s at comms.jpg

The New Zealand women's sevens side took a crucial step in pursuit of Olympic glory by becoming the first team, outside automatic host qualifiers Brazil, to register a spot at next year's Games.

The top four teams in the world series, which finishes in Amsterdam next weekend, are guaranteed spots at Rio. By making the London quarter-finals with a 24-0 win over France, New Zealand secured enough points. They completed the tournament overnight (NZT).

Honey Hireme, a regular on the sevens circuit, put the achievement into perspective.

"We are trying to stay a step ahead by setting a high level of professionalism," the 34-year-old said.

"We had to learn it from scratch as New Zealand's first professional women's rugby players, but this young team's ability to learn and grow has been awesome.

"Women athletes can tend to be underestimated but, when people come out and watch, they're amazed by the skill, as well as our tactical plans."

Coach Sean Horan was satisfied, despite a 19-15 loss to Spain which ended a 37-match winning streak extending back to defeat by Australia in the final of the Sao Paulo tournament 15 months ago.

"Our first objective was to qualify for Rio," he said. "The next one is to go well in Rio.

"It's pretty cool when you can say we are pioneers of the New Zealand women's game. Like it or not, rugby's a religion in New Zealand. Our vision is to inspire young girls to live and love this game.

"A loss can sometimes be good because otherwise you worry about your outcome all the time. Even though you don't focus on a streak, everybody talks about it.

"We've got some girls who will be hurting, but it's about how they bounce back. The All Blacks and All Blacks sevens sides live with that expectation every day. Everybody brings their A game against you."

There was further disappointment when playmaker Tyla Nathan-Wong suffered an ankle sprain. She's expected to miss the rest of this sevens season.

Nathan-Wong's fledgling talent is core to why the team, known colloquially as the Sevens Sisters, are so successful. The 20-year-old's fitness and finesse deliver moments of genius under pressure.

Take the loss to Spain. Down 14-10, Nathan-Wong gathered the ball on the left flank at the Spanish 30m mark, assessed limited options and kicked for the right touch. A flurry of hands saw Katarina Whata-Simpkins score.

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Don Oliver Youth Sport Foundation proudly supported by D&H Steel Construction


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