Up Your Game For Tokyo, Baber!

The team needs killer instinct to defend gold medal at 2020 Tokyo Olympics
27 May 2019 11:37
Up Your Game For Tokyo, Baber!
Fiji Airways Fijian 7s rep Waisea Nacuqu in full flight against Kenya on May 26, 2019, at the London 7s. Fiji won 24-17. Photo: Ian Muir

Gareth Baber will probably get the chance to etch his name in Fijian rugby folklore when the Fiji Airways Fijian 7s team defends their Olympic gold medal in Tokyo, Japan, next year.

Three wins from three on day one of the London 7s – the penultimate leg of the World Sevens Series – has secured Fiji automatic qualification for the quadrennial event.

But Fiji’s performance at Twickenham Stadium has been far from assured, with the team struggling to kill-off their opponents in pool play despite possessing some of best attackers in the game.

Fiji’s lack of killer instinct has made it easier for teams to settle and organise themselves, which the collapse against South Africa in the Singapore 7s final proved has dangerous consequences.

Then, 20 unanswered second-half South African points cancelled out Fiji’s 19-0 half-time lead, condemning the side to what could turn out to be a damaging defeat this season.

The nervousness and indecision was again prevalent in the 24-17 win against Kenya in London on Saturday night.

The Fijians allowed their opponents to comeback three times in the see-saw encounter before captain Paula Dranisinukula finally sealed the narrow win with a 13th minute try.

France came next and a try each to Meli Derenalagi and Vilimoni Botitu gave Fiji an early 14-0 lead before their opponents responded with two tries of their own.

Three tries in the final three minutes to Alasio Naduva, Seremaia Tuwai, and Livai Ikanikoda eventually sealed a big 31-10 win but doubts remained ahead of the Samoa game.

Fiji started brightly against their Pacific rivals with a 2nd minute try to Josua Vakurunabili, but the Samoans took a 12-7 lead into half-time courtesy of  Joe Perez and Siaosi Asofolau.

Sevuloni Mocenacagi made it 14-12 in the 9th minute but Asofolau restored Samoa’s lead as Fiji trailed 14-17 heading into the final two minutes of the match.

Two quick tries to substitutes Asaeli Tuivoka and Waisea Nacuqu in the 14th and 16th minute respectively ultimately gave Fiji the win,

Baber spoke about eliminating distractions and being consistent ahead of London and Paris legs. The ponderous nature of Fiji’s start in London will add to his worries.

The Welshman deserves credit for bringing the team to the brink of World Series victory through devilish odds this season.

This includes a player charged with rape, former captain Kalione Nasoko convicted for drinking and driving and injuries to key members of the squad.

He will need to lift the tempo further, though, and work on the team’s weaknesses if Ben Ryan’s 2016 Rio heroics are to be emulated.

For now, the focus remains on winning the overall series title in Paris this weekend.

But discussions about Fiji’s chances in Tokyo are gathering steam and Baber has a year or so to change things before that historic defence in begins.

Edited by Osea Bola

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