New look Black Ferns Sevens ready for World Series opener in Dubai

By James Perry

(From left) Tysha Ikenasio, Kelsey Teneti and Manaia Nuku will make their World Series debuts this weekend in Dubai. photo/NZ Sevens FB

Sevens fans will get a glimpse of the future this weekend as a number of young players make their World Series debut for the Black Ferns while others step up into leadership roles.

Although there will be plenty of experience through the likes of stand-in captain Tyla Nathan-Wong, Niall Williams and Kelly Brazier regular stars Portia Woodman, Stacey Flulher, captain Sarah Hirini and Theresa Fitzpatrick will be missing after their Rugby World Cup campaign last month.

Coach Corey Sweeney has named three players to make their debut, Kelsey Teneti (Te Whānau a Apanui, Ngāti Porou), Manaia Nuku (Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui) and Tysha Ikenasio.

“We’ve got young girls who haven’t experienced the World Series before, so the key is not putting any pressure on them; it's about going out there, having fun, playing rugby and that will be when we are at our best,” said Nathan-Wong said.

The team has been in Abu Dhabi for two weeks ahead of the World Series opener in Dubai this weekend. They have had training sessions in the 30-degree heat and also opportunities to explore the city. Nathan-Wong says that has been an important part of bringing the new players into the squad.

Team melding

“We’ve made some massive growth just in the development of our game, girls understanding our relationships on and off the field. As long as we can stay true to who we are as individuals and bring that forward and these girls like Kelsey just back their ability because they’re all here for a reason.”

The Black Ferns Sevens have held training games against the USA and China while in Abu Dhabi. Teneti says those games have shown her what to expect on the international stage.

“It was good to implement what I wanted to get better at.

“It’s probably the furthest I’ve travelled before, so it’s been pretty amazing to be in a different country and experience those cool opportunities that you don’t normally get to experience every day,” Teneti said.

Teneti, who made her Black Ferns 15s debut earlier this year against Australia, is looking forward to making her World Series debut this weekend, ending a busy 2022.

Next generation

“I think the nerves will come when we get to the stadium and we’re getting prepared for our games. But the older girls have been great at making us feel not so stressed and anxious and to know that there are a lot of debutantes playing, or hopefully be on the field. I think that makes me feel better that I’m not just by myself. And I know the girls have got my back.”

Felix-Hotham, 22, who made her World Series debut in 2020 has been named vice-captain, alongside fellow 22-year-old Risi Pouri-Lane (Ngāti Kuia, Ngāti Koata, Ngāi Tahu) who led New Zealand to the gold medal at the 2018 Youth Olympics.

Felix-Hotham says the responsibility won’t affect her approach to the tournament this weekend.

“Obviously the leadership has opened up a space for what we call ourselves the next generation to step into those roles. It’s been amazing to see our other leaders like Gossy [Sarah Hirini], Portia, Stacey, and Rubes [Ruby Tui] achieving such amazing things on the world stage and it's huge motivation for the likes of me and Risi and Mini [Michaela Blyde] to be able to step into that space and honour them and the jersey.

Nathan-Wong is sure her young squad will have no problem stepping up “I know these girls are going to do this black jersey proud.”