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Bring Back ‘Ice’ Factor

One message is clear amidst the shock and shame of yesterday’s humiliating 40-7 semifinal loss to England in the Canada Sevens in Vancouver. We need the “Ice” factor in coach
14 Mar 2017 11:00
Bring Back ‘Ice’ Factor
New Zealand's Ardie Savea struggles to contain Isake 'Ice' Katonibau.

One message is clear amidst the shock and shame of yesterday’s humiliating 40-7 semifinal loss to England in the Canada Sevens in Vancouver. We need the “Ice” factor in coach Gareth Baber’s lineup.

“Ice” is Isake Katonibau. The never-take-a-backward step Lieutenant and onfield rugby leader was long a key part of former coach Ben Ryan’s team.

But he disappeared from the team last year, officially because of injury. Unofficially, there were hints of a breach of team protocols involving drinking.

Leone Nakarawa – now playing top tier in France and unavailable – stepped up into the role Katonibau played. But no one has done so since Nakarawa, another player with a military background, returned to professional rugby in Europe.

Katonibau meanwhile has been concentrating on his military career as a Republic of Fiji Military Forces army captain.

Now there is evidence Katonibau has been training hard and is back playing.

As we focused on the Canada 7s, a trim looking Katonibau was leading a young Army Green side to win the Uluinakau 7s tournament at Ratu Cakobau Park, Nausori.

He is reported to be ready to return to major competition in the Marist Sevens on the 24th and 25th of this month. He is reportedly no longer drinking, alcohol that is. On Friday night he was spotted in a Suva nightclub with friends. He was sticking to juice, according to those who saw him. He left early.

His sights are said to be set on making the team for the big Hong Kong Sevens April 7-9.

His return could be a major boost after we’ve remained title less after six tournaments in the 2016/17 World Sevens Series.

MISSING

The losses have revealed a number of missing components in our firepower, including defence, discipline and fitness.

Another is the ‘Ice Factor’, the need to select a player who possesses special leadership skills to assist captain Osea Kolinisau.

Right now, there’s a lot on Kolinisau’s plate and he is under a lot pressure. This has impacted his judgment skills and at times he has committed simple basic errors, which is very uncharacteristic.

No one denies the fact that we’ve a very talented team with seasoned campaigners like Jasa Veremalua, Masivesi Dakuwaqa, Nemani Nagusa, Apisai Domolailai, Seremaia Tuwai, Vatemo Ravouvou and Samisoni Viriviri. These are players who possess special skills.

However, if we look back to our back-to-back World Sevens Series wins, former coach Ryan knew of the importance of this added leadership role. He appointed Katonibau, and then after his disappearance Nakarawa. Katonibau was a perfect fit.

SPECIAL ROLE

Off the field, Katonibau was the team’s commander and had the respect of the players.

On the field he was someone the players looked to when the going got tough. His fearless attitude and slicing runs around the rugby field not only intimidated the opposition but upped our players’ morale.

This was not only on attack but in defence as well.

This helped ease the pressure on Kolinisau who was able to focus on other aspects of their game.

During last year’s Olympic Games gold medal celebrations, the Lau Provincial Council hosted a special lunch for Kolinisau and Dakuwaqa.

In his speech, Kolinisau revealed that the only time he argued with Ryan was when he decided to drop Katonibau from the squad.

BRING BACK ‘ICE’

In Vancouver, right from the pool games our play was almost stagnant. We seemed to have run out of options. Our tackles lacked sting and we looked ordinary.

There was no one leading from the front, leaving rookie forwards Kalione Nasoko, Mesulame Kunavula and Setareki Bituniyata in disarray as they were denied possession time and again.

There was no “X” factor that a player like Katonibau brings.

We cannot allow this to go on in the remaining four tournaments of the series.

Word is that is Katonibau’s next big step is to show his worth at the Fiji Bitter Marist 7s tournament at the ANZ Stadium, Suva.

He hopes to impress Baber and regain his spot in the Vodafone Fijian 7s team for the Hong Kong and Singapore tournaments.

Baber will no doubt be watching closely. As he should if he wants to reverse the run of failures so far in this world series.

Hong Kong is a special tournament – the mother of all sevens tournaments.

It is a special stage on the World Sevens Series circuit.

Where better for a special player like “Ice” Katonibau to make his return?

And try to help our struggling team return to their special winning ways.

Edited by Naisa Koroi

Feedback:  leonec@fijisun.com.fj

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