Black Ferns World Cup winner Sarah Hirini says “it wasn’t a tough decision at all” to leave the 15s game behind in favor of returning to sevens next year.
Hirini was one of a handful of big-name players missing when the squads for the 2023 Super Rugby Aupiki competition were revealed on Mondayand the 29-year-old openside flanker, who captained the Hurricanes Poua this year, believes her days in 15s may well now be done.
The second season of Aupiki has expanded slightly to five weekends, the second of which clashes directly with one of the seven rounds of the World Sevens Series (Vancouver, March 3-5), while the penultimate round (Hong Kong, March 31-April 2) comes a week after the Aupiki final.
Hirini captained the Black Ferns Sevens to gold at the Tokyo Olympics last yearthen this year to bronze at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and silver at the World Cup in Cape Town. She then transferred to 15s this year for her first tests since the 2017 World Cup win, playing a major role in the Black Ferns’ Rugby World Cup victory.
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But despite the euphoria of this month’s triumphshe has confirmed the plan all along had been to revert to the shorter form next year, with an eye to the 2024 Olympics.
“I’m a sevens player,” she declared. “I love sevens, and I know how much it’s given me… and obviously I’m on a pretty good contract with sevens (one of 25 women on full-time deals).
“I’m the captain of the sevens, so why would I want to leave that?
“I would have loved to have played Aupiki, don’t get me wrong. If it had worked out calendar-wise I would definitely have put my hand up again.
“But unfortunately, where Aupiki lands, it just doesn’t really make sense. I would’ve missed Dubai, Cape Town [the opening two rounds next weekend and the weekend after, with the 15s World Cup winners now on a break], and missing a couple more doesn’t sit really well with me. Hong Kong and Vancouver – the women’s teams have never gone to those tournaments before, so it would be really cool places to go.”
Hirini said she was aware New Zealand Rugby had “tried so many different plans” around the best time to stage Aupiki, but noted they still had the Farah Palmer Cup, as well as eight Black Ferns tests in 2023to fit around.
“You bring it earlier, then the girls don’t get a rest, you take it later, and then it overlaps with something else anyway. So it’s fit for the 15s.”
So, in a women’s game that continues to grow, the likes of Hirini, Portia Woodman, Ruby Tui, Stacey Fluhler and Theresa Fitzpatrick were the last group of New Zealand women’s players to switch between the two formats, such is the scheduling, and specializing a playing style, now required?
“We potentially were,” reckoned Hirini, who all but ruled out any future 15s return for herself.
“I’m going to say, ‘never say never’, but probably not in the next couple of years anyway.”