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Black Ferns Sevens rise to the occasion to win SVNS Vancouver

By Finn Morton
New Zealand celebrate after winning SVNS Vancouver. Picture: World Rugby.

New Zealand’s Shiray Kaka said it best on Day One at SVNS Vancouver: “You can say it,” she told RugbyPass. “We’ve lost every tournament. That’s what’s happened.”

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But not anymore. For the first time in the 2023/24 season, the Black Ferns Sevens have claimed Cup final glory after dismantling France 35-19 at BC Place Stadium on Sunday evening.

Veteran Portia Woodman-Wickliffe, who replaced injured superstar Stacey Waaka in the starting side this weekend, led by example with a blistering hat-trick in front of thousands of fans.

Woodman-Wickliffe scored the opening in the first minute and from there, the New Zealanders never looked like slowing down as they ran riot with a barrage of tries.

New Zealand led 28-7 at half-time, and while France ‘won’ the second term, it was the Black Ferns Sevens’ night as they held on for a confidence-building win after a tough season to date.

The Black Ferns Sevens placed fifth in Perth last month after a tough quarter-final exit, but they’ve bounced back and can rightfully take their seat on the SVNS Vancouver throne as champions.

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“We had the likes of Sarah Hirini go out this year with her knee, Stacey (Waaka), Kelly Brazier, but the fact that we’ve gone through some moments that have been really quite hard in the past in terms of the rugby game, coming fifth in Perth was a real eye-opener for us,” Woodman-Wickliffe told RugbyPass.

“But to come out here, we’ve got some really new girls, we took out all the excess stuff that didn’t need to be there and made the game simple: get the ball wide, create space and play from there.”

Woodman-Wickliffe added another two tries to held guide the team to victory, while try-scoring whiz Michaela Blyde and Jorja Miller also played their part on the scoreboard.

About an hour after their game, and as the Argentina men’s side continued to celebrate on the turf at BC Place Stadium, Woodman-Wickliffe stopped to reflect on the match that was.

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The Player of the Final joked that she “didn’t know I had it in me” to score those three decisive tries in the final before continuing to discuss the importance of this result for the team.

“Our game’s not perfect, we’ve got a long way to go,” she added.

“Australia is always the pinnacle but France is such a massive side. They’re strong, they’re physical, they bring a different game that no one else does.

“Looking forward to the next tournament. We’ve got some girls that are coming back from injuries. It’s going to be exciting.

“But the ultimate is the Olympics at the end of this year so we want to be peaking towards that.”

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Poorfour 10 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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