NZ Rugby World caught up with popular Spark Sport presenter Scotty ‘Sumo’ Stevenson to chat about the upcoming Pacific Four Series, the Black Ferns and the lead up to the Rugby World Cup 2022.
When speaking with Sumo, it’s easy to recognise that he is a passionate man. Passionate about cricket and rugby, and particularly women’s rugby. His knowledge of players, teams and statistics would make him first draft pick on the quiz team circuit.
Sumo will be heading up Spark Sport’s commentary team for the upcoming Pacific Four Series featuring the Black Ferns, Australia, USA and reigning champions Canada. His excitement is contagious and he is eager to get back on the tools behind the mic. Sumo will be accompanied by a team of well-respected wahine whose faces and voices he assures us will be familiar to fans.
The Pacific Four Series takes place over three double header match days from Jun 6th- 18 and will be staged in Tauranga, Waitākere and Whangārei. This is the first time the full tournament has been played; the inaugural Pacific Four Series took place in Glendale, Colorado in 2021 but only featured USA and Canada.Australia and the Black Ferns were unable to travel due to Covid restrictions. Canada came out on top 15-9 and 26-13 in those games and was crowned champion.
The upcoming tournament is an appetizer for fans leading up to the smorgasbord that is the 2021 Rugby World Cup, hosted in New Zealand later this year. The covid-induced drought of topflight women’s rugby on our shores is about to end, and it’s incredible to think the last Black Ferns match on home soil was a 2019 defeat of Australia.
Spark Sport have always had a commitment to streaming rugby union, and audiences for the United Rugby Championship have been strong.The Pacific Four Series and RWC21 represent an extension of that commitment and reinforces Spark Sport’s position as a true champion of women in sport. As Sumo says, “We want to put the Pacific Four Series front and centre on Spark Sport’s platform and take pride in the way we deliver it,”
Spark Sport is well aware of the growth of women’s rugby in New Zealand, and around the world, and Head of Operations, Jeff Latch, is always on the hunt for strong competitions that reflect that growing interest and engagement.
“Spark Sport is always looking for content that resonates with Kiwis and that we think New Zealanders want to watch, keeping in mind that the way New Zealanders watch sport is changing”.
For New Zealand fans, The Pacific Four Series is a great chance to see the Black Ferns in action in three tests against quality opponents before their Rugby World Cup defence begins. Sumo is eager to see how the Black Ferns are going to go after what has been a difficult 6 months: A confronting Northern tour with heavy losses to both England and France, along with the in-depth review into team culture and management.
“I think it's going to be really interesting to see what style of game the Black Ferns are able to play given the fact they were really blown off the park by both England and France. They will need to front up, first and foremost. If they can find a way to rediscover their forward dominance, I think they'll be a force to be reckoned with. They have won five world cups, so we know their history, and we know their legacy”
As mentioned, the Black Fern legacy is something to behold. They boast an 83.5% win record overall and, remarkably, only four teams have ever beaten them. One of those is the USA, although the overall record still reads 11-1 in favour of the Ferns. Sumo is keen to see the Black Ferns get back to their best in front of their home crowd and believes the combination of coaches mixed with veteran and high potential rookie talent can produce results.
“I think we all want to see how quickly this Black Ferns team can get together. They’ve got a host of new faces and that brings excitement and energy. Ruby Tui is not exactly a stranger to rugby fans, but it’s amazing to think she's going to make her first appearance for the Black Ferns 15s. With eight potential debutants in the squad that brings a genuine infusion of enthusiasm.
Debutants aside, Sumo believes 33-year old Kendra Cocksedge is going to be an influential leader. As a former New Zealand Player of the year, Cocksedge brings a huge amount of experience and mana.
“I always look forward to watching her play and to see how she constructs the game and guides the team around”
Other players key to a Black Ferns resurgence are Ruahei Demant, named as captain in the absence of Les Elder, and youngsters Tafito Lafaele and Kaipo Olsen-Baker who impressed in Super Rugby Aupiki. Although short, that tournament showed us that the depth is there if the investment is made.
“It's a huge opportunity for Ruahei Demant. Her partnership with Cocksedge in both game management and leadership will be crucial to the team’s chances. Those youngsters picked to bring power and pace to the pack will also have a big say in the success of this side.
“The Black Ferns have had to do a lot of soul searching and have only had a short time to get used to a new coaching group. They're going to have to be on their game because the Pacific Four Series opponents are going to be worth their weight”.
Sumo believes that fitness will be a focus, ensuring the players are in the best shape possible to play the style of game that suits the skill set ofNew Zealand’s players. The vastly experienced coaches - Wayne Smith, WhitneyHansen, Wes Clarke and Sir Graham Henry and Alan Bunting - will be looking for full dedication and commitment from their players knowing that the World Cup is just around the corner.
“We know how analytical Wayne Smith is as a coach. He would have looked through the squad strengths and weaknesses and I'm sure he will have a major role to play in developing the style of game. Whitney Hansen comes with big raps and a deep knowledge of the player pool. She'll be a smart operator and will only get better. Wesley Clarke offers continuity and his passion for this team is evident. Add Sir Graham and Alan Bunting to the mix and you have a truly world class group.”
With Rugby World Cup 2021 just around the corner, Spark Sport can’t wait to provide fans in New Zealand with LIVE coverage of every match and a suite of content to provide convenience and engagement with every fan. From a spectator point of view Sumo believes some of the early match ups are going to be huge.
“If you think about the opening match day at Eden Park you have France against South Africa, England against Fiji, and then New Zealand take onAustralia. New Zealand will see themselves currently the third best side out of those six. England are well ahead of the pack at the moment and France were superb in November against the Black Ferns. Being able to gauge the strengths of the three top teams on the first match day is incredible viewing.”
Spark Sport are excited to be showcasing women’s rugby on New Zealand’s premier sports streaming platform, and to be working collaboratively with Warner Bros Discovery as the free to air partner, beaming the tournament into homes all across NZ and the world.