9 Nov 2017

Sport: Cook Islands 7s hoping for return to the big-time

1:25 pm on 9 November 2017

The Cook Islands are keeping their expectations in check at the Oceania Sevens Championship, which kicks off in Suva tomorrow.

Qualifying places for the Commonwealth Games, World Cup and Sevens World Series' are all on offer at ANZ Stadium.

The Men's and Women's Captains pose ahead of the 2017 Oceania Sevens in Suva.

The Men's and Women's Captains pose ahead of the 2017 Oceania Sevens in Suva. Photo: Oceania Rugby

The Cook Islands men haven't featured on the World Series for five years but did contest the Commonwealth Games and World Series qualifier in 2014.

The squad is an even mix of players based on Rarotonga and in New Zealand.

Captain Stephen Willis said they want to be back playing on the world stage.

"Yeah we're hoping for good results over here to qualify for next year - get back into Hong Kong - so we're hoping for a top six finish (and will) try our best," he said.

"The boys will be stoked to get through but at this moment we're just thinking about game by game, we're just taking it game by game and (to) play to the best of our ability."

The Cook Islands open their campaign against Nauru on Friday morning and will also face New Zealand in the penultimate match of day one.

Record turnout

A record eight women's teams take to the field for the Oceania Sevens, alongside 13 men's teams, up from seven and ten teams last year respectively.

"We are currently rated in the top four in the world standings," said Fijiana captain Ana Maria Roqica.

"Ever since I started playing rugby, the crowd used to tell us that it's a 'men's sport'...now they really love how the women have been playing rugby," she said.

Fiji captain Ana Maria Roqica made the tournament Dream Team at the Kitakyushu Sevens.

Fijiana captain Ana Maria Roqica during last season's World Series. Photo: Michael Lee - KLC fotos

"Rugby is my passion. Growing up in my village in Tavua, I used to play rugby with the boys and I've grown to love rugby," said fellow Fiji women's international Rusila Nagasau.

"It's that coconut tree on the jersey that makes us proud, as it's not just about myself but my family and my country."

Oceania Rugby President Richard Sapias said involving women and girls, men and boys, more equally in rugby is central to the organisation's strategic goals.

The regional governing body is also working in partnership with UN Women to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

"For Oceania Rugby and World Rugby to work together with UN Women, through events such as the Oceania Sevens, presents an ideal opportunity to support women and girls in rugby, and to encourage their communities to support them, too," he said.

"Everyone is committed to opening the door to women and girls in rugby, and we know there is more we can still achieve.

"Today we are making progress, and it's great to see record numbers of women players, and an increase in female coaches, managers as well as workforce staff here at the 2017 Oceania Sevens."