Shakira Baker scoring against England at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in April. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

RUGBY

JAKE BELESKI
jake.beleski@age.co.nz

Former Greytown School and Wairarapa College pupil Shakira Baker has been included in the first Blacks Ferns Sevens squad of the 2018/19 season.

The sevens series kicks off next weekend in Glendale, California, with a 13-strong New Zealand squad named on Thursday by coach Allan Bunting.

It has been a remarkably successful year on the field for Baker, with Commonwealth Games and Rugby Sevens World Cup gold medals already in the trophy cabinet.

That followed on from the silver medal she won with the team at the Olympics in 2016.

The Glendale Sevens is a new tournament on the Sevens Series, increasing the number of women’s tournaments to six.

Bunting said the Glendale event meant an earlier start than usual, and presented an exciting opportunity to travel to a new destination.

“Our preparation has been shorter than usual – we’ve had four weeks of pre-season instead what would normally be around eight.

“Our players have had a good break and come back really refreshed and we are working towards getting back to where we were at the end of last season.”

Huia Harding, Terina Te Tamaki and Katarina Whata-Simpkins, who all saw limited game time last season, will gain valuable experience in Glendale.

“This was a tough squad to pick but we have a few players that are rehabbing injuries so it did give us the opportunity to grow some depth,” Bunting said.

“Our philosophy has always been to keep consistency with our core group of players and then we can bring other players in and give them the chance to learn in a tournament environment.”

While the 2018/19 season does not have a pinnacle event, it is Olympic qualification year, which Bunting said meant the team must perform every time they take the field.

“We need to finish the season in the top four to qualify for the Olympics, so this is a really important year.

“We learnt a lot out of our results in Dubai and Sydney last season and know we have to start the season strong.”

The Black Ferns Sevens face China, England and home team USA in pool play, kicking off next Sunday [NZT].

New Zealand finished second in last season’s Sevens Series, with Australia finishing first.

Black Ferns Sevens squad: Shakira Baker, Michaela Blyde, Kelly Brazier, Theresa Fitzpatrick, Sarah Goss [c], Huia Harding, Tyla Nathan-Wong, Alena Saili, Terina Te Tamaki, Ruby Tui, Katarina Whata-Simpkins, Niall Williams, Portia Woodman.