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Manuel thankful for Olympic selection shot

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 24/05/2016

Huriana Manuel of the New Zealand Sevens team. © Friedemann Vogel/GETTY IMAGES Huriana Manuel of the New Zealand Sevens team. Fit-again Huriana Manuel appreciates a late chance to show her wares at the final leg of the women's sevens world series in France.

Manuel will make just her second appearance of the year for New Zealand in Clermont Ferrand this weekend, where the best they can realistically achieve is hold onto second place overall.

Australia have won three of the four tournaments to sit 12 points clear of New Zealand, who hold a slender advantage over England, followed by Canada and France.

One of the most experienced members of the wider squad, Manuel has been dogged by injury for two years.

Serious ankle damage suffered early in 2014 sidelined her for 18 months. She returned for round two this year in Sao Paulo but more medical issues ruled her out of the next two legs in Atlanta and Vancouver, where New Zealand were beaten finalists.

The 29-year-old former captain will be closely watched by coach Sean Horan, who is close to finalising his squad to compete at the Rio Olympics.

"The possibility of representing my country at the Olympics was definitely a dream of mine, and now that it's not far away, it is a surreal feeling," Manuel said.

"I am just grateful to be here and in this position."

Manuel says the improvement in standards across the board since making her debut in 2009 is immeasurable, turning the race for gold at Rio into an intense one.

"Most of the teams are now professional and it is very competitive these days," she said.

"Teams are now playing each other around the world, there are more resources and the high level of skill and fitness is phenomenal."

New Zealand's pool opponents on Saturday are Russia, Japan and Canada.

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