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Baker wins World Cup shot

RUGBY

JAKE BELESKI

Being named 13th woman for the Paris leg of the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series last month was a wake-up call for former Greytown School and Wairarapa College pupil Shakira Baker.

She knew she would have to work hard to regain her place in the 12-strong squad for next week’s Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco, and when the Kiwi teams were named on Tuesday, she had done just that.

The World Cup will be held from July 20-22, and a new format will make for interesting viewing.

There are no pools and no second chances for the teams in both the women’s and men’s events,

In the men’s event, teams ranked 9-24 will play a pre-round of matches, with the winners advancing to the round of 16 to meet the teams ranked 1-8.

In the women’s event, there are only 16 teams, so they will go straight into the round of 16.

The Kiwi teams will have to win four consecutive matches to win the cup.

Baker said it was a mixture of excitement and relief to be named in the final squad.

“It’s always an honour to get picked in the team and to be able to wear your last name on your back.

“I know it was a tough team for the coaches to pick and there were a lot of awesome girls who missed out.”

The final trial matches were held on Monday, and then the nervous wait for Tuesday’s team naming began.

Next week’s event will be Baker’s first time at a World Cup after she missed the 2013 event in Russia due to injury.

New Zealand won that tournament and they have the chance to become the first team, in either the women’s or men’s game, to win back-to-back World Cup titles.

The men’s team will have the opportunity to match that achievement the following day, should both teams get that far.

First up for the women will be a match with Mexico, and if they get through that a quarterfinal against England or Ireland awaits.

Mexico will offer a different challenge to what New Zealand usually face, mainly due to a lack of knowledge on their playing style.

“To be honest, I’ve never seen them play but I think they’ve played in a couple of tournaments,” Baker said.

“They’re really unexpected and we have some footage of them, so we’ll be looking at that and analysing them in the next few days.”

Baker said making the World Cup squad had been one of her major goals for the year.

“I had to try and work hard and secure a place in the team again and managed to do that which I’m pretty stoked about.”

Black Ferns Sevens coach Allan Bunting said this was the most challenging squad he had ever had to name.

“It was definitely hard but that’s exactly where we want to be.

“In our trials there was so much motivation, excitement and skill . . . we know we have selected the right team.”

He said they had enjoyed a good year to date, but the group was strict on themselves, and believed they had room to improve.

The women’s first match against Mexico will be at 6.50am on Saturday, July 21 [NZT].

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