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‘Didn’t play like New Zealand’: Black Ferns Sevens survive thrilling opener

By Finn Morton
Sarah Hirini of the Black Ferns runs through drills during a New Zealand Black Ferns Rugby World Cup squad captain's run at Gribblehirst Park on November 11, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Defending world champions New Zealand have opened their new SVNS campaign with an enthralling 19-14 win over newly promoted South Africa in Dubai on a beautiful morning in Dubai.

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South Africa were less than a minute away from what would’ve been an early contender for the upset of the season, and they had New Zealand camped deep within their own half too.

But the Black Ferns Sevens lived up to their status as champions with a clutch effort in defence. After winning a turnover mere metres out from their try line, they made their way down the field.

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Fans couldn’t look away as the clash came down to a moment of destiny. Eventually, the match was defined by a passage of individual brilliance from New Zealand captain Sarah Hirini.

Hirini, 30, felt an immense sense of “relief” as the World Sevens Series veteran ran away for a long-range try at the death. There was only about 30 seconds left to play as the Kiwi dotted the ball down.

The full-time whistle sounded soon after which saw the “best team in the world” officially live up to expectations from back home by opening their campaign with a hard-fought win.

“I love it, I love being the best team in the world, that’s what we strive for every day,” Hirini told RugbyPass after the win over South Africa.

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“Wearing the Black Ferns Sevens jersey, you’re expected to win – New Zealand expects you to win every game and it’s great.

“We still won and we’re talking like we potentially lost. That’s pretty crazy to play in a team like that.

“I’m proud to represent this jersey and hope the games are not so close next time but I’m sure they will be. We’re playing Great Britain and Fiji so it doesn’t get any easier.

“We were just making silly errors. We’ve got some of the best players in the world who don’t make those kind of errors.

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“We probably won’t have a game like that again which is nice. We just didn’t play like New Zealand but that’s okay, we’ve got another game to be able to rectify it.”

Playing in a pool alongside Great Britain and Fiji, South Africa showed the rugby world that they’ll be a tough team to beat this season after making their way to the series by promotion.

South Africa are new to the circuit after winning World Rugby’s Challenger Series on home soil earlier this year. With speedster Nadine Roos leading the way, they look more than capable of something special this season.

“Probably not a surprise for us. We watched quite a bit of their footage and knew they were going to be great,” Hirini added.

“They’ve got some amazing footy players – seen some girls play in Japan. We definitely weren’t taking them lightly, we just made quite a few errors that made it hard on ourselves.

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“I love when teams come out and play us like that. We want to change the game and the only way it’s going to do that is if we get pushed.

“It was pretty tough and go in that last little bit when they were right on our line and obviously (Nadine) Roos is a pretty good player in getting those chip and chases.

“I’m just so proud. It’s tough to win sevens matches, especially on the World Series at the moment.

“To start a season off with a win is a big tick and we can move on now.”

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