Dubai: New Zealand’s sevens team have vouched to make 2019 a special season as they embark on claiming an elusive Olympic gold medal during next year’s Tokyo Games.
One of the most successful teams in the history of world sevens rugby, New Zealand fell short of their golden dream when they were beaten 12-7 in the quarter-finals by ultimate champions Fiji when rugby entered the Olympic dominion at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
That hurt rankles at the back of every Kiwi’s mind, and Tony Philp, the High Performance Sevens manager with the All Blacks, promised they will be doing everything possible to get that Olympic gold before the start of the opening round of the 2020 World Rugby HSBC Sevens Series, at The Sevens in Dubai this weekend.
New Zealand go in as the defending champions in both men’s and women’s competitions with their opening matches on Thursday. The women take on Japan in their opener at 4.42pm followed by the men’s opening encounter against Wales at 5.28pm.
“This is going to be a really big year for us and we are really excited about this. We love coming here, and getting off to a winning start would be something that we’ve been thinking about during our build-up to this event,” Philp said on Wednesday.
Also in attendance were Faisal Al Zarouni, Vice-President of the UAE Rugby Federation, Gary Chapman, President of Emirates Group Services and DNATA, Douglas Langley, Men’s Series Director, and Deirdre O’Sullivan, Women’s Series Director, of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
“Rio taught us a lot and we are certainly building up since the past couple of years towards Tokyo. The Olympics is a tough world and we know that and if we want to win, then we know that we need to be at our very best to achieve our goal,” Philp added.
New Zealand have been dominant while winning 12 of the 18 IRB Sevens World Series events since the start of the series in 2000. The only times the All Blacks have not won the series was in 2006 when Fiji were crowned champions, in 2009 when South Africa triumphed, in 2010 when they came second to Samoa and in 2015 and 2016 when Samoa took back-to-back crowns.
“No doubt, we have been consistent in the past years, but there are another 15 teams who are equally competitive. But, this year is going to be an exciting opportunity for us where we will have to be at our best,” Philp said.
Cory Sweeney, who is the co-coach with the women’s team, also hoped for a strong showing this weekend. “We’ve been successful in the last two years. As defending champions, there’s always going to be pressure on you,” he said.
“On our part, we know that every time we are in it to win it. It is always important to go through the detail in the challenges ahead. It’s a long season and there are new challenges before the Olympics. I can assure you that we are here to do our best.”
The Dubai Sevens has four competitions each year highlighted by the opening round of the World Rugby Sevens Series for men and a 12-team competition for women (on the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series) followed by the Rugby Invitation Tournament and a Netball Invitation Tournament on the sidelines.
Matches begin at 9am on each of the three days and continue until 7.30pm.
16 teams in men’s tournament
12 teams in women’s tournament