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A hard-fought battle

Kameli Rakoko
Thursday, February 14, 2013

CONFIDENCE comes from experience and that's what our national sevens reps will have gained from the Las Vegas Sevens in the weekend.

The three-day event seems to have taken its toll on a number of teams who had dropped out of the quarter-finals to the Bowl and Shield matches as fatigue from rugby caught up or the bright lights of the Sin City had taken its toll.

However, our players played gallantly to the final whistle despite having to play without skipper Setefano Cakau and forward Manueli Laqai who were suspended after the review of Fiji's game against Scotland.

Fiji lost in extra time in the semi-finals to New Zealand after a full-time score of 14-14. David Raikuna scored the winner in the corner for the Kiwis to win 19-14.

They then lost in extra time to Samoa in the third place play-off after a fulltime score of 31-31 with Samoa going in at extra time to win 36-31.

To play two extra time matches one after the other and the second to go up 31-31 at full-time says a lot about our team's fitness and discipline all thanks to the coach, manager, trainer and the players.

In the 2016 Olympics that would have got us so near and yet so far from winning a medal.

But there were some brilliant performances as the absence of the two senior men of the team allowed Jone Vota at hooker and Jasa Veremalua at rover to show their potential on the international scene.

Playmaker Joji Raqamate worked overtime and there was no sign of the injury he carried from the Uprising Sevens.

Winger Samisoni Viriviri improved as the tournament progressed scoring a hat-trick in the third place play-off.

He has gained a lot of confidence and is finetuning that swerve and sidestep to perfection and must have received encouragement from his namesake and grandfather Samisoni Viriviri Sr who now lives in the US.

Viriviri Sr of Dratabu, Nadi is a former national fifteens captain and former national coach.

He began his rugby career in the tough schoolboys Deans trophy competition for Ratu Kadavulevu School XV in the late sixties to early seventies and played for Fiji in the 1976 Australian tour and was at halfback when Fiji beat the British Lions at the old Buckhurst Park in 1977.

He was the number two halfback but top halfback Isimeli Batibasaga pulled a hamstring in the final training session before the big game and coach Inoke Tabualevu gave Viriviri the green light.

He went on to captain Fiji in the 1980 New Zealand and Argentina rugby tours and coached the national side in the 1989 tour of the northern hemisphere where they played French Selection, Scotland and then England.

He also coached Fiji into the 1991 Rugby World Cup in France and before that against the touring England side who beat Fiji here. That team was captained by Mosese Taga and had current national sevens coach Alivereti Dere as openside flanker.

Meanwhile, Fiji's defence vastly improved in the latter stages of the Las Vegas tournament but we still have yet to control our own kick-offs and lineout throws.

Losing that possession to the opposition proved fatal against New Zealand and Samoa.

More effort in improving variations in lineouts and kick-offs will see us maintain more possession.

Hong Kong and Japan are next and Fiji has regained fourth place after the Las Vegas effort.

Dere will be expected to be back at the coaching helm in the last two legs of the HSBC Sevens World Series and he has a lot of work to do to select the best players from the various players he has watched in action.

Two soldiers who could not make the last leg were Epeli Mulevoro and winger Leone Nakarawa who could force their way into the Hong Kong team.

Hong Kong remains the prestige tournament and Fiji's favourite hunting ground. Last year's victory on the former British colony was a memorable one and the stars of that team had been scooped up by overseas clubs.

Halfback Nikola Matawalu now plays in Scotland, Metuisela Talebula, Waisea Nayacalevu and Joeli Lutumailagi play in France.

Continually losing players to overseas clubs and then the ban on players in the army has depleted our pool of national sevens players and yet we are still up there in the top echelons with the best.

From now until the world cup in Russia Dere and his selectors will no longer have any restrictions on their effort to select the best.

We leave everything to them, especially with the experience of our new High Performance Unit manager, we trust they will select the best players to bring the Melrose Cup home.

From now on there will be no more excuses for poor performances.

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