Family impact evident in Sevens squads

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Lynn McConnell     21 Jan 2016     Getty Images

Four sets of siblings have been included: Jordon and Joe Webber, Niall and Sonny Bill Williams, Stacey and Beaudein Waaka and Terina and Isaac Te Tamaki.

Greater opportunities for women to pursue a fulltime career in the game has occurred with the Sevens programme and that is borne out in the squad namings with the Go for Gold campaign instrumental in attracting players to Sevens.

Jordon Webber said All Blacks Sevens star and brother, Joe, had helped her get started in rugby.

"I didn't know how to tackle or anything but he pretty much taught me all the basics and everything I needed to know to get me started. Since then he's been available to help me in specialist areas like tackling or passing. He's always keen to help and he's been massive," she said.

Now aged 24, she played netball until she was 20 but then was attracted by the Go for Gold campaign and her brother suggested she should try it out.

Having played Touch Rugby, the catch-and-pass element was similar but the contact and the laws around the ruck and how to place the ball, and all the sorts of things that were not part of Touch were important to learn. As she developed those skills the ability to secure turnovers became the next phase.

"It wasn't too hard to pick up but Joe made it way easier than it would have been," she said.

As a result of her enjoyment of the team culture, and the atmosphere around the side she said she would never go back to netball.

"I love the challenge of it, you're always learning new things," she said.

She said it took time to adjust and it was the 2014 National Sevens before she felt truly confident and that was when she was first invited into the national squad.

The opportunities the game provided made it exciting. "I don't know of any other sport where you get to travel with all your good mates, it is all free, there is no cost to us, you get to go all over the world and it's been amazing," she said.

That had allowed her to enjoy the highlight of her career to date, winning the World Series in 2014, the first she had been part of, in Amsterdam.

The financial rewards also allowed full-time concentration on the game and the sport had come a long way in that regard since she first started. Her hopes of making the Olympic team depend on her recovery from injury which will rule her out of the February tournament in Sao Paulo but she is confident she is on track to return in March.

Stacey Waaka said: "I first starting playing Sevens when I was 16 for the Bay of Plenty women's team and the attraction at the time was the Go for Gold campaign. I liked rugby anyway and knowing it was going to be an Olympic sport I thought I would give Sevens a go."

Having a background in Touch Rugby she thought the backgrounds to the two games were similar. It has also helped that the speed and footwork that were part of her Touch game are equally useful in Sevens.

Decision-making was seen as one of her assets and she had the ability to create something from nothing. That was something she said developed from watching her father and brothers playing as she grew up.

"I also love watching ITM and Super Rugby and stuff, so that all helps," she said.

With brother Beaudein having been heavily involved in the men's Sevens side it had been more motivation for her to play the game. They share their accommodation now so have the chance to talk plenty about the game.

Sevens was a game that allowed her a lot of time with her friends in a competitive environment and she has found she is starting to enjoy the contact side of the game.

Being on contract to play Sevens has been a boon to her education with scholarships now available to pay for her study in which she is working her way toward qualifications in sport management on a one-paper-a-semester basis.

Being paid to play the game also allows her to train full-time which was a dream come true.

"Now that I can train all day I can focus on specific skills of my game and fitting recovery in which was hard when I was studying full-time last year. It has got to the point where knowing I can get my body right every day is definitely helpful," she said.

Still to play her first tournament in World Series play, Waaka is keen to have that opportunity and while the Olympic Games are a goal to work towards it was a case of taking chances as they come along the way.

She has played internationally for the Black Ferns in Canada last year and played Sevens in Japan and that taste of travelling was an appetiser for other opportunities.

Continuing in XVs is something she would like to do in the future but for the moment she has her sights firmly set on Sevens.