Agnew’s angle: Black Ferns and sailors overcome adversity

Overcoming adversity is just one element which makes the Black Ferns Sevens and sailors Peter Burling and Blair Tuke great.

In winning the second round of the women’s World Sevens series in Dubai, the Ferns did so without inspirational captain Sara Hirini and champion try-scorers Michaela Blyde and Portia Woodman.

With respect to PJ Perenara, no-one has done the haka as good as Buck Shelford as Hirini. With her it’s a case of the eyes have it. Hers talk.

The women’s haka is different to that of the All Blacks men but no less passionate.

With Hirini leading, it epitomises the spirit of unity and pride that makes the Ferns so difficult to beat. Not that they are invincible as France proved when beating them 19-14 in pool play.

No fluke that either in a competition which has seen France, the USA, England and Canada improve dramatically since Australia claimed gold and left the marvellous Woodman to weep after she had been sin-binned at the 2016 Rio Olympics final.

That switched to a winsome smile when Kelly Brazier scored the winning try against the Aussies in last year’s Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

They have hardly put a foot wrong since, claiming the world crown and series. However they also understand that upsets are on the cards due to the overall improvement in a tight 14-minute game.

“It doesn’t matter who puts the black jersey on, you have gotta play with pride. Mana and for yourself, your friends, your family and especially for the fern, your country,‘’ said Tyla Nathan-Wong who took over the captaincy from the injured Hirini.

A clever body-and-soul player, she is one of several players capable of taking on a leadership role.

Brazier, who also had a strong Dubai tournament, is another. But the brightest star was Stacey Waaka whose penetrative runs won rich reward.

With the Ferns down 14-5 to Canada at half-time of the final, the speedy Waaka scored her second try and the side-stepping Gayle Broughton added another at the death to snatch a thrilling 17-14 win with one conversion.

The New Zealand men were well beaten 15-0 by a fleet-footed, quick thinking South Africa side. However they produced their best in beating the USA 26-5 before overcoming England  19-12 in their semi-final.

Meanwhile there were plenty of thrills and a few spills when Peter  Burling and Blair Tuke won their fifth world 49er sailing crown in gusty winds and choppy Auckland waters on Sunday.

Add that to their America’s Cup victory in Bermuda and 2012 Olympic silver and 2016 gold in London and Rio respectively and they have been acclaimed as New Zealand’s greatest sailors.

Russell Coutts may want to dispute that, having scored 15 wins and no losses when winning three America Cup crowns as skipper/helmsman. He added two more as CEO of Oracle when Aussie James Spithill was skipper/helmsman.

Coutts is also an Olympic gold medallist, having won the Finn Class in Los Angles in 1984 when suffering painful boils on his bum.

Without wishing to get into any debate about who is the greatest, New Zealand can take great pride in the achievements of all three.

With Burling and Tuke overcoming adversity by moving from ninth to fourth in the final race on Sunday after Burling had fallen overboard, true grit prevailed.

Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer.