22 Jul 2016

Men's and Women's Sevens

5:52 pm on 22 July 2016

The New Zealand men's and women's rugby sevens teams will be contenders for medals at the Rio Olympics, but they don't hold the favouritism they once had.

Niall Williams with her older brother Sonny Bill at the New Zealand Sevens Olympics announcement.

Niall Williams with her older brother Sonny Bill at the New Zealand Sevens Olympics announcement. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Both teams qualified after finishing in the top four of the World Rugby Series.

The Rio competition has 12 teams in the men's and women's competition with nations qualifying either through their respective World Series' or by regional tournaments.

For years New Zealand dominated the sevens game but as soon as it became an Olympic sport the world starting pumping money into the game and that resulted in a more competitive game.

The first New Zealand men's sevens side was selected in 1973 and they attended a major tournament for the first time in 1983 when they went to Hong Kong. Current coach Sir Gordon Tietjens was in that side.

The world series started in the 1999-2000 season and New Zealand won the first six tournaments, before Fiji claimed their first title.

In all the New Zealand men have won the series 12 times, the last was in 2014.

The All Blacks Sevens have twice lifted the Rugby World Cup of Sevens, in 2001 and 2013 and won four Commonwealth Games gold medals.

Over the years many of the games greatest players have been involved: from All Blacks stars like Jonah Lomu, Christian Cullen, Joe Rokocoko, Cory Jane and Ben Smith to sevens proponents Amasio Valence, Dallas Seymour, DJ Forbes, and Eric Rush.

Coach Sir Gordon Tietjens has coached the national side since 1994, he knows all about his players and what it takes to win in the game of sevens.

His number one requirement is fitness.

He also believes he needs a strong squad of 12 players.

"There's always pressure it doesn't matter what rugby team you are coaching in New Zealand."

"To win games, to win tournaments to win medals, you have to have some luck on your side and you've got to go in there with a lot of confidence and generally if I have that strong bench I go into a tournament with a lot of confidence."

The New Zealand women's side also dominated their global competition initially, claiming the first three titles since its introduction in 2012, however this year they finished second behind Australia.

They won the World Cup in Moscow in 2013.

New Zealand sevens player Portia Woodman.

New Zealand sevens player Portia Woodman. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The 2016 squad contains a number of players who came from other sports, deciding to give it a go when it was confirmed in the Olympics.

One of those players is Portia Woodman who was playing netball for the Northern Mystics.

Both her father Kawhena and uncle Fred were All Blacks in the 1980's, while her aunty Te Aroha Keenan is a former Silver Fern.

The 24-year-old has also played for the Black Ferns.

She officially joined New Zealand Rugby in 2012 in the 'go for gold' scheme with netball team-mate Kayla McAlister.

"We went along to a trial and thought we'd just give it a crack and see what happens, it's the Olympics, it's a new sport for women in New Zealand and learn together and to this day we never thought we'd get this far and the Olympics are now just around the corner, the dream is so close now, we've got to catch it."

There are two sets of siblings within the squads with Blues players Rieko and Akira Loane included along with Sonny Bill and Niall Williams.

Brothers Rieko and Akira Ioane at the New Zealand Sevens Olympic announcement.

Brothers Rieko and Akira Loane at the New Zealand Sevens Olympic announcement. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Sonny Bill Williams has the chance to add an Olympic gold to the World Cup title he won with the All Blacks.

Twelve teams will compete in the men's and women's competition held over three days.

Fiji are seeded number one in the men's competition ahead of South Africa, New Zealand and the United States.

Australia are the top women's seeds, ahead of New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

In the men's competition New Zealand has been drawn in Pool C with Great Britain, Kenya and Japan.

In the women's competition New Zealand has been drawn in Pool B with France, Kenya and Spain.

The NZ Olympic Men's Rugby Sevens team:

Scott Curry (captain)

Sam Dickson

DJ Forbes

Akira Loane

Rieko Loane

Gillies Kaka

Tim Mikkelson

Augustine Pulu

Teddy Stanaway

Regan Ware

Joe Webber

Sonny Bill Williams

The NZ Olympic Women's Rugby Sevens team:

Sarah Goss (captain)

Shakira Baker

Kelly Brazier

Gayle Broughton

Theresa Fitzpatrick

Kayla McAlister

Huriana Manuel

Tyla Nathan-Wong

Terina Te Tamaki

Ruby Tui

Niall Williams

Portia Woodman