Road to Rio: Sean Horan, NZ Women's Sevens coach

By Peter White

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TOTAL FOCUS: Coach Sean Horan watches another training session held at Blake Park. PHOTO/FILE A_261114gn04BOP
TOTAL FOCUS: Coach Sean Horan watches another training session held at Blake Park. PHOTO/FILE A_261114gn04BOP

New Zealand Women's Sevens head coach Sean Horan made his name coaching the Bay of Plenty Steamers for three seasons.

He was then given an opportunity to move into sevens and women's sport for the first time in 2012, along with former Steamers midfielder Allan Bunting.

"It was quite a change of direction going from a male dominated fifteens sport to sevens and female," Horan said.

"One of the reasons I looked at it was the challenge to make myself a better coach and to also have influence on a brand new programme and where we want to take it.

"The positives working with the players is a lot of time they are like sponges. To a lot of the girls a high performance environment was very new to them.

"It was about the ability to learn and grow and the growth in the skill set of the players on the field has been huge.

"Off the field the lines of professionalism was a big learning curve with 24/7 demands on diet and how they are scrutinised all the time."

Horan says the past four years has been a big learning curve for everyone involved in the programme.

"Initially there was a lot of the unknown and a lot of pioneer mentality, breaking down barriers - all that kind of stuff.

"But that has definitely changed in the last 12 to 18 months as Rio has got closer.

"It has been an awesome journey and I have loved it. It has thrown up its challenges like anything and you get a few knocks along the way but you get back up and you keep progressing."

Horan is leading a massive change in how women's sevens is regarded by sports fans.

Respect has been earned the hard way through consistent performances.

"If we are brutally honest the reason why women's sevens has taken off is because of the Olympics. That is the priority and why I am here and the players are here.

"One thing I am really proud about is trying to create a legacy not just for women's rugby here in New Zealand but also offshore with the standards we want to keep both on and off the field.

"It is about inspiring others to wear the black jersey and I think we are doing that.

"The sevens going to Rio has helped grow the fifteens game as well in New Zealand and it is maybe the tip of the iceberg if Rio goes well and Tokyo (2020 Olympics) goes well.

"I think it could be a pretty phenomenal women's sport worldwide."

Back in 2012 Horan selected talented athletes from a range of sporting codes who he could see had the potential to become top class sevens players.

"Selecting from a wide range of sports is on-going. It is giving other athletes an opportunity to go to the pinnacle world event in sport. That is the real carrot.

"Rugby underpins sport in New Zealand. Every grandmother, mother and sister knows about it so it is not as foreign to women here as it is in other countries."

New Zealand won the first three HSBC Women's Sevens Series held but Australia were easily the dominant force in the 2015-2016 series and will be hot favourites for the gold medal in Rio.

But Horan is not taking too much notice of their stellar season.

"Everybody has got caught up on that. For three years in a row we were the World Series champs and World Cup champs in 2013.

"Aussie have shown us certain parts of the game that that they do a little bit different to us and everyone else. Their continuity and their adaptation of the game is at the forefront.

"They are a top side and a team we are going to have to get better against in certain aspects. Their centralised programme has worked for them. They are 24/7 with each other.

"But our performance plan this last year deviated a wee bit to building a Rio squad.

"We always believed as part of our plan not to worry about the World Series of 2015/16.

"It is around three days in August."

The University of Waikato Adams Centre of High Performance at Mount Maunganui's Blake Park is the regional base for both men's and women's sevens.

Horan is not sure if it will become a national base like the Australians have at the Sydney Academy of Sport in Narrabeen.

"It has a lot to do with where the women's game goes after Rio and if the World Series stays at five (countries) or gets bigger.

"It is also the direction of what New Zealand Rugby want to do whether they keep it a regional model.

"It is great to have athlete and office facilities, a gym, changing rooms and the field across the way."

And now it is time for Rio.

The years of planning and training are done.

The moment of truth awaits Horan, his management team and the players as they go for gold at the historic first Olympics sevens competition.

It will be an unforgettable three days in August for them all.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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