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How Black Ferns Sevens channel ‘pressure’ to stay ‘hungry’ for more SVNS success

By Finn Morton
New Zealand's Stacey Waaka charges through the Australia defense on day three of the Cathay/ HSBC Hong Kong Sevens at Hong Kong Stadium on 2 April, 2023 in Hong Kong, China. Photo credit: Mike Lee - KLC fotos for World Rugby

From the outside looking in, the Black Ferns Sevens couldn’t have really asked for much more in 2022/23. Other than a silver medal in Dubai, the New Zealanders won every Cup final that season.

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But they want more. With a new campaign getting underway in Dubai on Saturday, the New Zealanders are setting their sights on more silverware and rugby sevens greatness.

Late on a practically perfect night in the United Arab Emirates, Stacey Waaka walked down the tunnel at The Sevens Stadium with a near-trademark gleaming grin stretched across her face.

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Waaka had just scored two of New Zealand’s five tries as the reigning world champions overcame a tough challenge to down traditional sevens rivals Fiji 29-21.

But Waaka’s smile didn’t tell the full story. Fans have high expectations of any New Zealand rugby team, and those standards are driven within the team’s inner sanctum as well.

“Pleased but not satisfied,” Waaka told RugbyPass on Saturday evening.

“Our coach definitely said it was a rollercoaster day and it was. We obviously started a little bit slow, came back in the second and the Fiji game was so tough – and it always is. We always love playing out Fijiana sisters.

“It’s such a physical battle and you know who’s gonna win till the end so we love those games.

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“It’s cool for the fans to watch. People back home, we think, are up at 3 am watching us.”

The idea that the defending champions have a target on their back is a common theme across all sports in the world – that’s what makes the great dynasties so impressive.

Tom Brady’s New England Patriots, the legendary New York Yankees and the Las Vegas Aces’ current run in the WNBA are great because these teams and athletes achieve continued success that was once deemed impossible or highly unlikely.

The Black Ferns Sevens have experienced prolonged success as well, and that’s part of the reason they’re so likeable and impressive – they always want more and they’re willing to work for it.

“I think it starts from the culture and connection off the field,” Waaka explained when asked how the Black Ferns Sevens stay hungry after previous successes.

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“We had the longest preseason that we’ve ever had – six months since Toulouse. We did a lot of fun stuff, a little different training and we had a great strength and conditioning coach who made it fun.

“If you can bring your group together, stay in the fight, stay hungry no matter (what).

“We’re competing against each other every single day, our best mates, and you want to be better no matter what whether it’s in the gym testing, whether it’s a speed test, whether you’re playing against each other day in and day out.

“That’s what keeps us motivated, keeps us hungry individually to be better but collectively to be the best in the world.”

With fans both young and old cheering on the women’s and men’s sevens side from the other side of the world, the players in black are continuing to raise the bar even higher. The pressure is very real.

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These players carry the weight of a rugby-mad nation into sevens battle every time they take the field anyway, but the New Zealanders not only embrace it but thrive off the expectation.

But when the opening whistle sounds on the SVNS Series, or even when they’re at training, the Black Ferns Sevens know how to keep cool, calm and collected as they chase more greatness.

“I feel like it’s pressure no matter what,” Waaka said, still with a smile on her face.

“We have won a few things in the years gone but I suppose for us it’s just keeping our cool, staying focused on the task at hand, not looking too far ahead.

“We love winning, we hate losing – no one likes losing, right? You’ve just got to find little milestones, little challenges along the way to keep your mind ticking, keep the heart ticking and making sure that we’re growing and getting better each game.”

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