Analysis | SPORTS

Gareth Baber, Our Man Of The Moment

The harsh criticism overlooked the fact that Baber inherited a team that was still recovering from the high of the Rio Olympics gold medal win
10 Jun 2019 15:01
Gareth Baber, Our Man Of The Moment
Former Airways Fiji Sevens Coach Gareth Baber


There was a moment in the Fiji Airways Fijian 7s team’s win over USA in Paris when the poise of Gareth Baber gave way to a sudden influx of emotions.

The USA were on attack hoping to mount a late comeback with a minute left until fulltime.

It collapsed for them when a stray Ben Pinkelman offload was collected by Meli Derenalagi who released Alasio Naduva for Fiji’s emphatic fifth try of the match.

Baber was beside himself even though Fiji had probably secured the win before that late try.

A video posted on Instagram showed him cheering on the sidelines with clenched fists, punching the air with the exultation of victory before Naduva even reached the line.

It was a moment that perfectly captured the emotions and relief of the nation, embodied by a coach hungry, if not desperate, for a result.

Fiji went on to beat New Zealand 35-24 in the final to claim the Paris title, which was Baber’s 10th trophy in two seasons.

Only Englishman Ben Ryan (twice) and maestro Waisale Serevi had managed to win the World Series since its inception in 1999, earning them legendary status.

With this Series win, it is no longer ridiculous to mention Baber in the same bracket as those two. He has earned that right.

Though it remains to be seen just how much more Baber can achieve with this team.


Next target

His next target will be to mastermind a defence of next season’s World Series title and win the 2020 Olympic Games gold medal in Tokyo.

That will take some doing.

But Baber seems capable of meeting those targets, given his recent achievements and the risk-taking, hard-tackling brand of rugby the team has become known for.

Initially a surprise appointee, the former Hong Kong 7s team coach has exceeded expectations though his rise to the top has hardly been easy.

Baber lost the series by two points last year despite winning five tournaments, which was more than any other team.

Fiji’s 5th place finish in Paris 2018 condemned the side to a second-place finish behind South Africa, inevitably raising questions about Baber’s fitness for the top 7s job.

Harsh criticism

The harsh criticism overlooked the fact that Baber inherited a team that was still recovering from the high of the Rio Olympics gold medal win.

Baber was tasked with overseeing a re-build and the senior management at the Fiji Rugby Union kept faith in the Welshman.

He rewarded their faith by achieving something only two men before him could as his team steamrolled to one of the most dominant series wins in recent memory.

The Welshman’s record in terms of tournament wins is better than Ryan and Serevi, with both only managing a maximum of four Cup wins in a single series.

Keen eye

Baber’s success has largely been built on his keen eye for identifying and nurturing young talent, which has helped him discover Aminiasi Tuimaba, Derenalagi and Vilimoni Botitu.

That, combined with his work ethic that has brushed off on the team, has so far been a recipe for success.

Looking ahead, the next few months will be important for the coach.

His focus right now is on retaining the current crop of players, which will be a challenge given that none of them are contracted.

He is also on the hunt for new talent which should open doors for a few more players to join the squad before next season.

If Baber can keep up the momentum and good feeling he has created within the team, 2020 could turn out to be a special year for Fijian rugby.

That will certainly be the focus as preparations for a big season ahead begins.

Given that his team is far from a finished product, the poise and measure will have to return.

Edited by Osea Bola

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