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A big year ahead

Kameli Rakoko
Thursday, January 17, 2013

A HAPPY and prosperous New Year to all sports fans and readers and we look forward to some exciting things ahead of us in the next 11 months.

Three major world titles in sports will be at stake this year and we've won one title twice, are current world title holders in another and we are fourth ranked in the third. Not bad for a small island country like ours with around 800,000 in population.

We are talking about rugby of course and if some have forgotten we have won the Melrose Cup twice or the Rugby World Cup Sevens title, we are current world champions in the international Police rugby league championship having won the title in Australia just before the last world cup kicked off.

The Fiji Bati also reached the semi-final of the last Rugby League World Cup held in Australia.

Local rugby league players are already in camp and out of the 70-member squad, 30 players will be selected to prepare for the final trial to meet overseas-based players in September.

The players are in camp at the Fiji Military Forces camp in Nabua under assistant Fiji Bati coach Jo Rabele.

There will also be celebrations of the 100th year of rugby in Fiji.

In sevens rugby there's the Melrose Cup championship in Russia and we lost the title four years ago but we are the only team to have won the title twice, the first in 1997 and the second in 2005. Both were held in Hong Kong.

England won the first title in 1993, Fiji won in 1997 under coach Rupeni Ravonu and manager Epeli Lagiloa. We lost the title in Argentina in 2001 where New Zealand won. We won it back in 2005 but Wales stole the limelight in the final and are now reigning champions.

Before any of the three teams can clinch their second win, national coach Alivereti Dere has his sights focused on Moscow 2013 where Fiji hopes to win its third Melrose Cup.

Compared to the preparation for the 2009 world cup, we are much better prepared now and the Fiji Rugby Union is leaving no stone unturned.

We also lost coach Waisale Serevi and a new coach was selected. Nadi's Iliesa Tanivula and then national coaching director Ilivasi Tabua took the team over.

The differences among those in the FRU leadership then seem to boil over and reflected on the performance of our players and we ended up relying on the reputation of overseas-based players playing fifteens rugby, who were not conditioned to the sevens mode.

Fiji kicked off with a bang in the first leg of the HSBC Sevens Series with a sensational win in the Gold Coast Sevens. But a totally new set of players took over in Dubai and George and Fiji are now on third place hoping to make amends in Wellington next month.

The same Wardens combination of assistant national coach Timoci Wainiqolo and trainer Max Hughes are hoping to take the team to the heartland of rugby, in the land of long white clouds of Aotearoa.

Coach Dere's coaching pattern of free running rugby has bore fruit and the culmination of his success was the emphatic Hong Kong sevens win last year where they beat New Zealand 35-28 in the final.

It was a memorable win with newcomer Waisea Nayacalevu making his mark, scoring the opening and closing tries in perhaps one of the best Fiji sevens win ever.

It was a sevens masterpiece.

We look forward to more exciting moments in this fast unfettered sport this year beginning with the Uprising Sevens tournament this weekend in the Sugar City.

The blend of local former stars like Viliame Satala and Ifereimi Rawaqa with the new talents on the international scene with local and overseas players make for an exciting weekend for the cyclone-ravaged west.

Satala's Hurricanes also has former champion coach Peni Veidreyaki as technical advisor and they face Samoa and the Aussie Thunderbolts in Pool C with local side Samurai Barracudas added in the royal rumble.

If the weather is already above average hot the competition is expected to be several degrees Celsius higher.

It is definitely a no miss tournament.

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