Why Olympic Gold Medal Winning Coach Steps In For Cotter ?

This means Flying Fijians head coach Vern Cotter and his set of assistant coaches based in New Zealand will not be part of the November tour this year.
20 Oct 2021 13:23
Why Olympic Gold Medal Winning Coach Steps In For Cotter ?
Gareth Baber. Photo: Ronald Kumar

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games gold medal winning men’s rugby sevens coach Gareth Baber will be the Flying Fijians head coach during the November Test matches.

This is due to the COVID-19 pandemic and travelling restrictions and challenges. The Fiji Rugby Union (FRU) has altered its November tour plan for the Flying Fijians who are set to face Spain, Wales and Georgia in Europe.

FRU Chief Executive Officer John O’Connor said taking in consideration the challenges associated with COVID-19, they decided not to select any Southern Hemisphere-based players.

“Further, since we were not able to guarantee MIQ spots for our NZ-based coaches, none of our coaching panel and management staff will also be part of the Northern tour,” O’Connor said.

This means Flying Fijians head coach Vern Cotter and his set of assistant coaches based in New Zealand will not be part of the November tour this year.

“We could have made arrangements for management and players to travel for the Northern tour, but we were not able to guarantee their return with the unavailability of MIQ spots in Australia and New Zealand,” O’Connor said.

“We could not take the risk of players and staff being stuck in the Northern Hemisphere in 2022 as such we made the decision not to use anyone from the Southern Hemisphere for the tour.

“Since we are not engaging our coaches, management and players from the Southern Hemisphere, we have had no option but to look at alternative arrangements in the Northern Hemisphere.”

O’Connor said as such Baber was given the responsibility to lead the pack as head coach, former Scottish and current Edinburgh attack coach Duncan Hodge, will be in-charge of the backs.

High-Performance skills coach of the Seattle Seawolves and former Irish hooker Rory Best will look after the forwards. Former Springboks and Scotland coach Richie Gray, who was with Flying Fijians during the Autumn Nations Cup last year, will oversee the ruck and contact area.

“It was a natural selection with Baber. He obviously has five years of experience working with the Fijian 7s team, managing high profile players, and putting in a plan for the international competition and achieving positive results,” he said.

“While we understand it will be a challenge for Gareth, we believe he will gell well with the Fijian players as they prepare for the three tests.

“We are thankful that Gareth took on the challenge. His involvement as the head coach will be the final curtain of his five-year involvement with Fiji Rugby prior to moving to his new appointment.”

Baber believes he needs to work hard to be able to match the standard which Cotter planted during the July tour to New Zealand.

“Working with the Flying Fijians is a fantastic challenge in an incredibly unique situation. With the logistical difficulties for Vern Cotter and his staff preventing their travel it falls to me to combine this unbelievable playing talent and expertise of the support staff into a winning formula in such a short space of time.

“But what an honour it is, and I am fully aware of the expectation for performance for the three games and the opportunity this creates for all concerned.

“I would like to thank the FRU Board, CEO John O’Connor and High-Performance general manager Simon Raiwalui for their trust and faith in my abilities and I’m determined to pay this back in representing the nation of Fiji to the best of my abilities,” said Baber.

Raiwalui said despite the difficulties they have managed to assemble an ardent team for the three test matches next month.

The team consist of experienced players who have been playing competitive rugby in the French Top 14, PRO D2, England’s Premiership Rugby and United Rugby Championship in Wales.

“It’s a smaller squad than normal, normally we would travel with 32 players but due to shortage in positions we have got a group of 28 players who will have cover in majority of the areas,” he said.




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