The New Zealand Rugby 7’s team has delivered more points, tries and has more players in the top stats than any other country. Not just for one game or one season but since 7’s began. World cup winners and Women’s Sevens World Series winners two years in a row, as well as two players nominated for player of the year this year (our front cover), this is a team that has earned the right boast and yet they are amongst the most down to earth and humble you will meet.
I have been privileged to spend time with and around the team from its inception and have observed how they are and how they operate, so this article
isn’t written from a casual one tournament point of view but as a result of significant time with them.
If pictures tell a thousand words then looking through all my photos from the last two seasons ahead of this article tells a story without the need
for words. Every photo from ‘behind the scenes,’ no matter what is happening, has at least two players interacting with each other: one getting
a massage while another is talking to them, them braiding each other’s hair, one injured then another helping them and ensuring they are included,
plus many other such moments. This is not just a team; it’s a group of players who follow the same code. As Sean Horan, the team coach says, “...we
call it our family values”.
This is a set of values and plans that they have all bought into and are fully committed to. Not only the players but all of the management team share
these values. Listening to any of them talk and it’s the same across the board: they are a family, they share the values and goals and support
and allow each other to do their jobs. It’s about the privilege and about giving back to this generation, as Hannah Porter (team manager) said.
Rather than being on a winning team, it’s about being part of a team that matters.
Even when talking to the two IRB player of the year nominations and cover stars, this issue’s Kayla Mcallister and Sara Goss, the message is the same.
“It’s about the team, there’s no competition amongst us, it’s teamwork”. “From day one we have said it’s about family, it’s a team sport and you
can’t get over the line without them, so that’s everyone from the office to management through to the team,” adds Portia Woodman. “That’s just
how we roll!” she adds.
This may be how the team rolls but how do you get there? When recruiting players, top of the list is character. Sean Horan is very clear on this: “it’s
the first box we tick. We have amazing athletes in New Zealand but if they don’t fit the character, then no thanks.”
Some may think it’s a bold move in sport, where one so often sees skill being put ahead of character - but it pays off for them. The reason this team
works is because they all support and buy into the values and vision. There is no doubt when they are on the field that they are all giving their
best because (as they call themselves) they are ‘sistas’ and they understand their individual as well as their combined roles and there is no competition
By far the most remarkable thing about the team is Sean’s mantra and how the team operates. “It’s not about performance, it’s about a plan. It’s about
life and rugby. If we believe in the plan, have the right characters, the right environment and the right infrastructure, then we need to just
focus on those things.”
Sean isn’t putting the players under pressure to win; in fact it’s not even mentioned. It’s all about the right foundation and ensuring that it is
correct. In so doing the paradigm shift for many is that actually you end up with a team that wins - and yet they do it with such humility. Why?
Because they did it together, they laid a foundation and it paid off - BUT that is balanced by life off the field and who they are as well. This
does come from the right base - but if you watch Sean, he spends huge amounts of time 1 on 1 with players. As he says, it’s his philosophy: “...you
need to talk to people and not at them.”
Having said all of the above, that in no way diminishes the fact that they desire to win or their enjoyment of it - and the expectation from fans back
home is clear: they put on the black jersey and they are expected to win and win by a lot and in style.
This is a team and management that all hold the same values, focus on each other and have emotionally invested into the team. This makes for something
very powerful and very valuable and allows them to have perspective, which keeps them grounded despite who they are and what they have achieved.
What motivates them, according to Sean is “...it’s the look in their eyes, we are a family and you do it for them.” You can’t say more than that.
A remarkable team and ethos, I feel honoured to have spent time and built the relationship that I have with them.
10 key points be a NZ 7’s player
- High standards
- High morals
- It’s not just about Rugby, it’s about life
- It’s not about performance, its about a plan
- Players need to make an emotional investment
- Believe in what you are doing
- Individual accountability
- Most points scored by a team both years of the WSWS
- Most players in the all-time points list of any country WSWS
- More tries scored by players on the all time list than any
other country WSWS
- Only list that players don’t feature on, most points scored by an individual in one game WSWS
- Won Rugby 7’s world cup 2013
- Won back to back world series titles
- Highest for/against ratio of any team ever 120/0 (2009
- Highest for/against ratio of any team for both world cups
95/5 (2013 world cup)
- Player with most tries 2009 and 2013 world cups
- Player with most points scored 2009 and 2013 world cups
- More player of the year nominations than any other country