Sevens: Fast rise for talented teenager

By Campbell Burnes

Photo / Getty
Photo / Getty

Tenika Willison is relaxed about how much game time she might receive next weekend in Dubai.

One of two new caps in the Black Ferns Sevens squad, the teenager from Waikato has had a swift rise through the ranks.

"Whatever comes, I'll try my hardest if I get on the field. I don't mind if I don't get on. I'm just here for the experience," says Willison, who turns 19 in a fortnight. She may be the baby of the team, but she is not made to feel that way.

"The girls have been really welcoming. The environment has been awesome and they make me feel part of the team," she says. But she is not foreign to the set-up, having been to the odd Black Ferns Sevens training camp in the past.

"To get the call-up to this, I felt honoured and privileged. I knew it was going to be hard."

Willison - who is the cousin of former Blues and Waikato and current Worcester Warriors midfielder Jackson Willison - has had an interesting last 12 months of rugby.

This time last year she was starring for the Hamilton Girls' High School sevens, who won the famed Condors Sevens in fine style. She made the tournament team, along with Terina Te Tamaki, who has already played for New Zealand.

"We had a good coaching staff for that team, and the Condors was where we got exposure with the TV cameras," she says.

It was off to Japan mid-year, where she spent three months playing sevens for the Hokkaido Barbarians, immersing herself in a culture she grew to love. Upon her return to New Zealand, she was thrust straight into Farah Palmer Cup action with Waikato, for whom she played in 2015 while still at school.

A first five in 15s, Willison has a wide range of playmaking skills which have caught the eye of new Black Ferns Sevens head coach Allan Bunting.

"She's been in our programme before, when she was still at school. We then let her go away so she wouldn't have all the pressures of professional rugby. She's shown up again in the playmaker role, so she has to be able to kick, pass, defend well, throw into the lineout and put the ball into the scrum," says Bunting. "If your playmaker has a good game, you usually win, so she's got an important skillset and is a talent for us. She's got a lot of potential if she wants it."

On that basis, expect Willison to see some game time in some of the Dubai pool games against Ireland, Fiji and France, as a back-up to usual playmaker Kelly Brazier, who will join the squad in Dubai from her Black Ferns tour.

As for Willison, this is just the first step on the path to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

- NZ Herald

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