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NZ still clear on Tokyo gold after sevens circuit…

By Greg Stutchbury

WELLINGTON, July 1 – New Zealand Rugby’s women’s sevens co-coach said his team were preparing for the possibility of not being able to play any international teams ahead of next year’s Tokyo Olympics, but was confident their planning would help in trying to win gold.

World Rugby cancelled the remainder of both the men’s and women’s World Sevens Series on Tuesday because of the coronavirus outbreak and awarded the titles to New Zealand.

Black Ferns sevens coach Cory Sweeney said the uncertainty of the outbreak meant teams had to be prepared for multiple scenarios ahead of the postponed Tokyo Games, next year’s pinnacle event for the sport.

“Best case scenario is that if the borders are open we will have eight World Series tournaments leading into the Olympics,” Sweeney told Reuters in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

“Worst case scenario is that if there are no World Series, however, the Olympics continues, then we need to work out how we get that competition without having to leave New Zealand.”

Sweeney said New Zealand’s player depth allowed the Black Ferns Sevens to recreate match pressure but there were intangibles like crowds and playing at the Olympics to a global television audience that could not be replicated.

The Black Ferns Sevens won four of the five tournaments on this season’s circuit and would have been firm favourites to go one step better at the Tokyo Games than in Rio de Janeiro when they won silver behind Australia in the sport’s Olympics debut.

Despite the coronavirus shutdown and the squad dispersing to play in New Zealand’s top-level Farah Palmer Cup domestic provincial 15s competition, the entire team had remained focused on winning the Olympic title in Tokyo, Sweeney added.

“We are a fair way down the road with that planning,” he said. “We know what optimal looks like for us.

“While the goal hasn’t changed we can refocus that.”

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

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