Sheldon Chanel: Baber’s Tactics Against Samoa Spot On

Despite the early setback and the nerves, it was the senior players that joined hands and sparked the comeback.
26 Jan 2020 09:36
Sheldon Chanel: Baber’s Tactics Against Samoa Spot On
Fiji Airways Fijian 7s forward Apenisa Cakaubalavu after the 19-12 win over Samoa at the FMG Stadium on January 25, 2020. Photo: Bruce Southwick/Zoom

For a moment, it looked like the Fiji Airways Fijian 7s side was heading for yet another early exit in Hamilton yesterday.

A combination of indecisive tackling and an early Samoan onslaught had the Fijian fans at the FMG Stadium in Waikato on the edge of their seats.

Fiji’s 19-12 win was hard-earned and required a big effort from the defending champions.

Gareth Baber’s side looked nervous at the start when Napolioni Bolaca kicked on the full to start the game, perhaps some leftover jitters from Dubai and Cape Town.

Sir Gordon Tietjens and Samoa’s strategy seemed clear: Deprive the Fijians of possession and force them into mistakes when they had the ball.

The new format ensures that teams with Cup final ambitions cannot afford to take any game lightly.

The idea that two wins will be enough to progress from the group is risky at best and Samoa knew it.

Fiji looked in danger of capitulation when Tomasi Alosio opened the scoring for the Samoans inside the first minute.

But it served as a wake-up call and was followed by two unanswered tries to Seremaia Tuwai and Vilimoni Botitu as the Fijians went into half-time with a 12-7 lead.

Both tries were well worked, with heavy involvement from Sevuloni Mocenacagi and Aminiasi Tuimaba.

Despite the early setback and the nerves, it was the senior players that joined hands and sparked the comeback.

Samoa started the second-half in a similar way to the first and a try to Joe Perez meant the game was heading for a dramatic finish.

But Baber, anticipating such an approach, replaced Isoa Tabu with the experienced Apenisa Cakaubalavu to hold the fort and counter Samoa’s game.

The change paid dividends.

Not only did Cakaubalavu play a key role in the lead up to Tuimaba’s winning try, but the Naroi, Moala, Lau native’s presence also seemed to settle the Fijian defence.

The outcome was a more compact and organised defensive line that the Samoans found difficult to penetrate.

In a game of high-pressure, Baber got his tactics spot on, adapted well and nullified everything Sir Gordon sent Fiji’s way.

Edited by Leone Cabenatabua


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