Tuisese Hails 7s Forward Meli Derenalagi As ‘World Class’

Meli Derenalagi can deliver the ball while in an awkward position when everyone is trying to bring him down and that is a huge asset
09 Apr 2019 18:32
Tuisese Hails 7s Forward Meli Derenalagi As ‘World Class’
Fiji Airways Fijian 7s forwards Meli Derenalagi and Josua Vakurunabili with fans after the 21-7 Cup final victory against France at Hong Kong Stadium on April 7, 2019. Photo: Kitione Rokomanu/ZoomFiji

Fijian rugby legend Ratu Il­aitia Tuisese has hailed as ‘world class’ the perfor­mance by Fiji Airways Fijian 7s for­ward Meli Derenalagi at the Hong Kong 7s over the weekend.

Tuisese, captain of the first Fijian team to lift the Hong Kong 7s trophy in 1977 and a Fiji Rugby Union hall of famer, was impressed by Derenalagi’s athleticism and work ethic on the field.

The Fijians beat France 21-7 in a pulsating Cup final thanks to two tries by
Aminiasi Tuimaba and one from Vilimoni Botitu.

The win helped the team move into second place (123 points) on the overall
World Series Standings, seven behind leaders USA.

Tuisese – who was coach, captain and manager of the Fijian team to the first
Hong Kongs 7s in 1976– believes Derenalagi is one of the most hardworking players in Gareth Baber’s team and has set a benchmark for other forwards to follow.

“He had a bit of a down period in Las Vegas and Vancouver, but really picked
up in Hong Kong,” Tuisese saidup in Hong Kong,” Tuisese said.

“He’s so well co-ordinated and focused and is well-aware of what his capabilities are. He can also deliver the ball while in an awkward position when everyone is trying to bring him down and that is a huge asset.”

Official World Rugby statistics support Tuisese’s analysis.

Derenalagi has the eighth highest off-loads in the series so far (24), four behind leader Seremaia ‘Jerry’ Tuwai.

The 20-year-old was named in the Hong Kong 7s dream team with his teammate Tuwai, capping a brilliant tournament for the former Queen Victoria School stu­dent.

Tuisese added: “You notice as soon as he falls down, he hardly stays there for two or three seconds. He gets to his feet quick­ly and returns to cover the space.

“The others don’t seem to have that work ethic yet. The players have to be mindful that once they are down, somebody is covering for their space. They need to be up quickly and return to cover.”

Ikanikoda’s return

Another player increasingly placed un­der the spotlight at Hong Kong Stadium was returning playmaker Livai Ikaniko­da.

Tuisese said Ikanikoda’s calming pres­ence helped halfback Tuwai express him­self better – to the benefit of the whole team.

“Despite the pressure that playing in Hong Kong brings, with a strong 40,000 crowd screaming the whole time, Livai stayed cool,” he said.

“It’s good that he was able to share the responsibility with Tuwai otherwise Tuwai is generally overworked. Livai’s presence allowed Tuwai extra time and space to be able to think and make better decisions.”

Fiji will be gunning for back-to-back ti­tles in Singapore this week on April 13- 14. The team is pooled with South Africa, Canada and Scotland.

Tuisese said Fiji’s chances to win the overall series will hinge on their ability to stay consistent despite winning one of the biggest tournaments in the game.

Edited by Percy Kean


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