By PHILIP CHANDLER
A 16-year-old Arrowtown rugby sevens player’s mixing it with stars like Portia Woodman in Tauranga this week.
Olive Watherston, who’s just finished Year 11 at Wakatipu High, is one of four high school students amongst 52 players involved in a five-day training camp followed by the Red Bull Ignite sevens series this weekend.
This week’s the first time New Zealand’s Black Ferns Sevens players have taken part in the series, featuring four drafted teams.
Amazingly, Olive, who’s already played for Otago under-age sides, only started playing rugby last year.
‘‘My goal is just to represent NZ,’’ she says.
‘‘I was wanting to do that in horse riding but then I saw rugby, and got more into rugby.’’
She’s fortunate Wakatipu High’s sports coordinator is former NZ sevens star Brad Fleming, whose team won gold at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.
‘‘He’s one of the main reasons why I’ve been able to make it to where I am, just with his knowledge and everything, he’s been really supportive,’’ she says.
However, she still hadn’t expected to be chosen for the Ignite series so soon.
Fleming says he’s blown away by how far Olive’s come in her sport in so short a time.
‘‘Her dad [former Arrowtown coach Andy ‘Spick’ Watherston] told me he used to make her tackle him in the backyard, and that’s why she loves tackling.’’
Before nominating her, Fleming says he rang Black Ferns Sevens coach Allan Bunting to check she wasn’t too young.
‘‘He said, ‘no, if she’s good enough, she’s old enough’.’’
Fleming says what he admires is ‘‘she’s got a great work ethic, loves training — you can’t coach that sort of attitude — and she loves the physical side of rugby’’.
Olive, who’s also played 15-a-side rugby for Wakatipu High, says what she loves about sevens is ‘‘I can get out there and just run around and let everything out’’.
As a ‘player apprentice’ this weekend, it’s left to her how long she stays on the field.
‘‘I’m sure she’ll probably want to play all the games,’’ Fleming says.
She’s also been named in the NZ secondary school sevens squad for the World Schools Sevens Aotearoa tournament in Auckland on December 19/20.