The Fiji Times »Rugby Sevens and Baber


As the shine of the gold medal in Tokyo slowly wanes, more pressing issues arise as rugby and life evolves in this fast-paced and ever-changing world.

Did you know that the World Sevens Series are underway in Canada this weekend? Don’t worry, Fijian 7s is not in North America.

But the star-studded squad in Canada includes teams that are out of the blocks early in the rebuilding phase – South Africa, the United States, Kenya, Ireland and a host of other emerging teams.

Welshman Gareth Baber scored his biggest rugby victory as Fijian 7 coach at the Tokyo Olympics.

Now the ball is in his court because I understand that he has received a new contract to continue as a coach until the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

If he accepts the offer, he will become the first man to hold this position for 8 consecutive years.

Coaching the Fiji 7s team is no small feat. You cannot imagine the scrutiny you go through with the job.

The trials that a man goes through are sometimes too hard to handle.

Imagine the enormous load to carry with the weight of the nation on your back every time the team plays – Fijian fans only want one victory.

In the world of rugby, being named the coach of Fiji 7 is considered the most difficult job to do in the country.

Why choose Baber

It has won the trust of stakeholders and it has provided proof that it can deliver the result.

If anyone asks me the question today, the answer is simple and clear: I would say that there is no one else near Baber for this job.

Perhaps his victories outweigh the defeats.

In my books it failed in 2018 when Fiji missed out on gold at the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup, but the gold race in Tokyo made those losses drown like one would in quicksand – three long years.

At the top of this list for a rugby fan, he would have guided and charted a winning formula to retain the gold medal at the flagship event of the 7 in the world.

Baber also notched the most wins by a coach in the World Sevens Series (11), overtaking former mentor Ben Ryan by two.

But what stands out to me are the five-dozen plus players who made it through the extended training teams and traveling teams during his 2016 tenure at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

He added three players to his side for Tokyo who would all have missed if the Games were in 2020.

Sireli Maqala, Iosefo Masi and Jiuta Wainiqolo (five tries in Tokyo) faced off in late 2020 and the rookies made their Townsville debut in the Oceania meet, but on the world stage it was a golden debut. in Tokyo.

Baber showed he has an eye for talent and he fed them well to execute the perfect plan to win gold in Tokyo.

He lost a few key players during the trip, but stayed on track with some great World Series outings before finally putting the icing on the cake in Tokyo.

Cultivate talents

Gareth Baber has proven that nurturing talent is essential to building a good team for big events.

He lost a few key stars along the way who were named as safe starters for the 2020 Olympics.

In fact, at the start of 2017, when Baber had been in office for a few months, he had players from the 2016 campaign led by Osea Kolinisau and included players who then landed contracts overseas – Jasa Veremalua, Setareki Bituniyata, Nemani Nagusa, Mesu Kunavula and Alivereti Veitokani while others have fallen from grace – Vatemo Ravouvou, Samisoni Viriviri, Joeli Lutumailagi and the talented Amenoni Nasilasila.

He lost a few key players just months before the Battle of Tokyo – Paula Dranisinukula and Sevuloni Mocenacagi.

I’d scratch my head and ask how to replace such talent in a squad, especially after the duo commanded the starting seven spots and played a big part in the squad ahead of the big outing.

In early 2019, the loss of Amenoni Nasilasila was a bitter pill to swallow.

Baber lost in the Namatakula man a talented player who had the ability to knock down games with a side step or a wrong pass and slide through a gap and run to the try line to win the match.

Losing a special talent like this in your development phase hurts and sets your plans back.

In fact, the coach ranked Nasilasila as the most talented player he has coached in Fiji.

Baber has built his Olympic squad around players who have shown great leadership led by Jerry Tuwai, Kalioni Nasoko and Josua Vakurinabili while rallying others around them starting in 2019.

Young stars Meli Derenalagi, Napolioni Bolaca and Asaeli Tuivuaka joined Vilimoni Botitu and Aminiasi Tuimaba to form a solid combination.

But Baber believed in young people and believe it or not, they pulled the trigger when it was important to send our nation back to the top of the podium for gold – proudly the only nation in the world to win 2 gold medals at the Olympic Games. to rugby.

And Gareth Baber did everything to get our team through this trip.

I guess I would write a totally different post today if the outcome didn’t go our way or maybe writing about who our next coach should be, trying to cast the net to see who was available at the abroad or if a local could be sought as an ideal choice.

Coach development

It is a matter of concern and something that needs to be implemented in the near future.

Many rugby enthusiasts have called for Fijiana 7 coach Saiasi Fuli to be promoted to men’s coach, but I guess Fijians have a plan and model in place for the goal of winning gold in Paris 2024 .

And Fuli will be the master tactician on this trip. At home, in my opinion, there is no one else who can take the top job in Fiji 7 and take on the far-reaching challenge that comes with being an international coach.

Some have also mentioned Jerry Tuwai’s name to become a coach, but I guess he’s not ready for the pressures of international rugby just yet.

Coaching development is one area FRU needs to look at as we move forward to see a local man take on the role of Fiji 7-man coach.

Our local coaches must be exposed to the highest level, learn the ropes and master international knowledge and understanding, the motivation to stay at the forefront of elite level rugby and the ability to be thorough in execution, in turn, producing positive results.

It’s a big year for the 7 in 2022. The possibility of the World Series hitting the track starting in March (fingers crossed), the elusive Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next August and the World Cup in Cape Town, in South Africa, next September.

The dilemma will be if Baber does not renew his contract. Fiji will have to look for options and hope we land a high caliber candidate and with contracts for possibly Neil Powel, Clark Laidlaw and others coming to an end soon, who knows who will be drawn to the Paradise Island for the most difficult work in the earth.

Cooper and Springshocks

Quade Cooper scored a fabulous tryout return with solid overall play at the pivot for Australia and assisted them with eight of eight kicks off the tee for the decisive victory over the world champions and world number one. South Africa to Gold Coast last Sunday.

It was great for the fans as most were on the wrong side of the burner with three losses against New Zealand.

Cooper showed class at number 10 and looked cool under pressure and his variation of play with short inside and outside passes as well as his chip kicks on the defense line made guessing and chasing springboks for most of the first half.

Cooper’s penalty to win the match saw fans looking away or bursting with joy before the kick sensing a win, but as Cooper took the kick and all cameras followed the ball.

The first reaction Cooper saw was a picture of a calm, serene man. No Ronaldo-style celebration at all.

His post-match interview and social posts a day later really show that Cooper has learned a lot and matured over the past four years while he was missing top rugby.

The Springboks ruined their chances with inaccurate goal kicks and poor discipline.

They will surely be a different package in the comeback shock tonight.

And in Cooper’s words – It’s already a new day today and last week is history.

Have a great weekend, stay safe and enjoy great football with the NRL Finals and Rugby Championship matches.

  • SATISH NARAIN is a sports commentator with FBC. The views expressed in this article are his own and not those of The Fiji Times.

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