Rugby World Cup Sevens: Kelly Brazier prepared for whole new level of 'crazy'

Kelly Brazier sprints clear to score the try that won the Commonwealth Games gold medal for the New Zealand Black Ferns Sevens. Stephen Blackberry/Action Plus via Getty Images

New Zealand sevens veteran Kelly Brazier believes the women's game may only be scratching the surface in terms of its potential, and she is prepared for a whole new level of "crazy" when the Rugby World Cup Sevens gets underway in San Francisco this weekend.

It will be the just the third staging of the women's tournament, after it was run alongside the men's event for the first time in Dubai in 2009 and then again in Moscow four years later.

The Russian stop failed to draw in much of a crowd but rugby sevens has since become an Olympic sport, and the women's game, in particular, has exploded in popularity across the globe.

And Brazier believes the women's game will only get bigger and better, both on the field and off it, just two years after the Black Ferns were edged out by Australia in the Olympic final in Rio de Janeiro.

"It's gone crazy," Brazier tells ESPN of the development of the women's sevens rugby.

"If any of the [2016] teams were here now I don't think they'd be able to compete with any of the teams these days.

"It's just gone crazy for women's sevens, and it's pretty cool to see the likes of Ireland, teams like Russia and even China, coming through. On any day you've got teams like Spain beating Australia. It's exciting times ahead."

At home in New Zealand, Brazier and the rest of the Black Ferns Sevens players are slowly starting to sample life as a celebrity, too.

"Yeah, there's definitely a few more [fans] out and about, especially in our home town of the Mount [Mount Maunganui]. So we have quite a few girls coming out to watch our training and then we've probably got a bit more of a profile after the Comm Games.

"We've been out for lunch and had the odd person yell out of their car 'congratulations' and that sort of thing. So it's pretty special."

Spectator interest in the women's game has surged since the 2016 Olympic Games, with the rivalry between New Zealand and Australia at the heart of the sport's buzz.

The other nations continue to improve, but the trans-Tasman foes repeatedly turn on the most exciting games in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series; they also split the circuit's five tournaments between them, New Zealand claiming three wins and Australia two.

But few of those games have been as dramatic as the Olympic final in Rio or the Commonwealth Games decider on the Gold Coast in April, the latter arguably the premier event from the 12 days of competition in Queensland. The atmosphere inside Robina Stadium was electric.

"No, to be honest," Brazier says when asked if she thought she'd ever play in front of such an excited and passionate crowd.

"It was, I guess playing Aussie in Aussie, the crowd was so loud and it was so cool to have a big contingent of Kiwi supporters there. The atmosphere was wicked, and the added stress of the game and the heat; it was something I won't forget easily."

After 14 exhausting minutes in temperatures that hovered around the 30C mark (86 Fahrenheit), it was Brazier who broke the home crowd's collective heart with a 70-metre match-winning try in extra-time.

"I sort of didn't feel too bad," she tells ESPN. "It wasn't until I got across the line and I just remembered my heart thumping in my chest and the girls jumping on me; I was struggling to breathe, I had to take a few minutes to myself and catch the breath back.

"It was a wicked way to finish the tournament, that's for sure."

New Zealand are the defending Rugby World Cup Sevens champions for both the men and women, not that Brazier believes that will mean any more added pressure than usual in San Francisco.

It's more about doing everything they can to best prepare and manage their own game plans, leaving factors beyond their control to the oft-unpredictable rugby ball and the cut-throat nature of sevens.

"I think that's probably the thing some of the public don't really realise; you've got teams like Spain or Ireland upsetting big-name teams, the audience is a bit like 'what's going on?'.

"But it's that type of game where if the ball bounces your way a couple of times, or you get a couple of kick-offs back, that's the game. So it's definitely a game of momentum and about controlling that, and holding onto the ball."

And then there's the local fans, who'll no doubt boost American sides who finished fifth (women) and sixth [men's] on this year's World Rugby Sevens circuit.

The United States men's team, the Eagles, spearheaded by speedsters Carlin Isles and Perry Baker, also claimed the Las Vegas Sevens title in March, proving just how valuable home support can be.

"It's going to be like something we've never experience before," Brazier says of the expected crowds.

"In America, the fans are crazy over there; so I'm looking forward to it. And it's a near sell-out, apparently, so it's definitely going to be something special and something that I'm going to try and soak in."