Underdog Tag For Our Olympic Champions?

Although these players have played in the World Sevens Series but they still need to time to adapt to the sevens game, which is of a faster pace compared to fifteens.
10 May 2021 10:00
Underdog Tag For Our Olympic Champions?
Fijian 7s training squad members Livai ikanikoda and Alasio Naduva (with ball) during training. Photo: Much of Life

What are we to lose if our Fijian men’s 7s team go in as underdogs to the Tokyo Olympic Games in Japan from July 23 to August 8?

Nothing, but there have been many factors that were beyond our control, which had affected our campaign in defending that Olympic gold medal.

The lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is surely taking its toll on our training squad.

Again it’s something that we cannot control.

Although, we appreciate the decisions made by the Government to contain this killer virus, it is also having its impact on our team’s preparations.

The closure of our border has caused many flight disruptions and delayed the arrival of our overseas- based players to join the training squad.

Despite this, players like Semi Radradra, Vilimoni Botitu, Aminiasi Tuimaba and Josua Tuisova are playing well for their clubs in Europe.

On Saturday, Botitu twice set-up Filimoni Nakosi to score two tries for Castres on their way to beating beat Lyon 37-29. Tuisova, later scored a try for Lyon after he was switched from wing to No.8. On the same note, Tuimaba, again was on scoring sheet with another try to help Pau thrash Agen 47-7.

In London, Radradra again was in the thick of things for Bristol who recorded a 40-20 win over Bath.

Transition period

Although these players have played in the World Sevens Series but they still need to time to adapt to the sevens game, which is of a faster pace compared to fifteens.

Another grave concern here, is that most players in the current training squad lack the experience of playing at international level.

The deferment of the 2019/ 2020 and 2020/ 2021 HSBC World Sevens Series again due to the pandemic has not helped in our cause.

Head coach, Gareth Baber, has reiterated the importance of our the players to have at least a taste of what it’s like to mix it up with the big boys before they head to Tokyo.

Our only hope now lies with Oceania Rugby- who is yet to decide on whether to go ahead with the Oceania 7s tournament in Sydney, Australia.

At least, this will be an ideal opportunity to play quality matches against New Zealand, Australia along with our Pacific rivals Tonga and Samoa.

If we compare our current side to New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland combined), United States of America, Japan and South Africa, which are the most inexperienced of them all.

Tasman rivals 

In terms of preparations, the Kiwis have roped in former sevens reps Caleb Clarke, Vilimoni Koroi and Etene Nanai- Seturo who had been playing in the Super Rugby Aotearoa.

They have opted out of the Super Rugby Trans Tasman.

The New Zealand 7s squad are expected to be unveiled today at the Sevens Mount Maunganui base.

Across the Tasman, the Australians under coach Tim Walsh had been training through the year, and had some internal games against regional teams to keep them sharp

We’ve got to remember that Walsh coached the Australian women’s sevens team that won the gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics- so he knows what it takes to win gold at the Olympics.

The Aussies have recalled sevens veterans Henry Hutchison, Nick Malouf, Lewis Holland along with speedy playmaker Maurice Longbottom.

African solidarity

For the Blitzboks, they are playing a key role in this year’s men’s sevens solidarity camp.

The camp brings together champions of African Sevens rugby under one roof.

They are South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

So far, South Africa and Kenya have qualified for the Olympics in the men’s category. But Uganda and Zimbabwe still stand a chance through the Olympic Repechage.

The Olympic Repechage is due to take place in Monaco on June 19-20 with the Olympic Games Tokyo starting on July 26-28 for men.

Through the leadership of Rugby Africa, African teams are coming together to prepare, the qualified teams for the Olympic Games and Olympic Repechage with friendly tournaments and shared preparation camps.

USA & Europe 

Then, the USA Eagles under head coach Mike Friday are going to play in an International 7s tournament from May 15-18 in England.

They are going to take on Great Britain and Ireland.

Friday has picked 14 players led by captain Madison Hughes. The event will be held behind closed doors with all matches to be live streamed.

The tournament marks the return of Carlin Isles to the USA line-up. Friday has once again decided to mix up his squad with young players, and players hoping to break into the Olympic squad with veterans, while also saving some other veterans for later dates.

The Eagles have nine players that played in the Rio Olympics.

“This gives us another opportunity to play while dealing with the same distractions we’ll have in Tokyo with overseas logistics and protocols,” Friday said.

“Overall, this event will give us a good indication of how we are tracking both physically and from a rugby perspective. It will no doubt highlight areas where we need to adapt and also give us affirmation as we enter the home stretch in our preparation for the Olympics.”

Stay focused

This should give us a fair idea of where we stand.

It’s best to keep a low profile and avoid being in the spotlight as to keep everyone guessing.

No amount of praising of our past Fijian sevens magic from our counterparts, should distract us one bit.

Let’s stay focused and keep to that underdog tag, which will surely do us good in the end.

Edited by Simione Haravanua 


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