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The right 7s mix

Manoj Kumar
Monday, February 25, 2013

I REMEMBER former rugby star Viliame Satala sharing his 2005 Rugby Sevens World Cup experience one day. He was talking about how so much was said in the lead-up to the showdown in Hong Kong when the Fiji team was selected.

There were questions being raised as to whether Satala, Waisale Serevi and others like Marika Vunibaka, in their mid and late 30s, and Semisi Naevo, 30, would be able to stand the competitive spirit and intensity of World Cup rugby over three days at So Kon Po.

Those who knew these players well, knew what they were worth and what they could conjure up when the going got tough.

Others had their doubts and overall very few rugby pundits gave Fiji a chance to scoop its second Sevens World Cup crown.

Last October, during Fiji Football Association's Inter-district Championship, myself and team director Pravin Chand, who is also a good friend of the former hit-man, invited Satala to speak to our young Navua team before we took on highly-fancied Lautoka in our second pool game.

Like a true sportsman, Satala turned up dressed in a red T-shirt although, as you all may know, Lautoka is his district and at that time he, as coach, was preparing his side for the Farebrother-Sullivan Trophy challenge match against holders Suva.

For most of our football boys, it was an honour for a top rugger like him to come and share his experience about dealing with a situation when you have all the odds stacked against you.

Satala took our team back to his memories of Fiji's 2005 Rugby World Cup triumph.

"No one gave us a chance," Satala shared with the Navua footballers.

"We knew it was going to be tough against some of the teams fielding much younger players like New Zealand.

"Most of Gordon Tietjens' players were young, enthusiastic, and like all his teams, super fit.

"That was when we decided that If we were to win, we'd have to play according to our strength and their weakness.

"We may not have had the pace and agility of our prime but we had experience and composure to bail us out of the most difficult situations."

He said that was when, together with Serevi, they mapped out a strategy to match the high-flying Kiwis.

"We decided to play it tight among the senior players like myself, Wai (Serevi), Ma (Vunibaka) and Misi (Semisi Naevo). We knew if we tried to match them with flair and pace, we'd probably end up second best.

"So the idea was to win the ball, hold on to it a much as possible, keeping it close and at the same time try to create the space for our speedsters and younger players like William (Ryder), (Sireli) Bobo and (Vilimone Delasau) Dels.

"Once we did enough to help open up the gaps for them, then only we'd let loose and as you may have seen we scored some good tries.

"We had to take a very technical and tactical approach.

"It wasn't easy but we proved a lot of critics wrong that year," Satala added.

Our young Navuans were so touched and lifted by his words that they were raring to go against a more technically gifted, fitter and experienced Blues from Lautoka.

We played according to our strength and their weakness. We sat deep and defended as a unit whenever they had possession.

We didn't allow them any room up the middle and only played them on the counter attack.

The Blues had almost 65 per cent possession and a whole host of attempts at goal.

In comparison, we had only two chances.

One a free-kick which came off the post and the second one, a half chance from 30 yards out, was stylishly converted into a goal by a stupendous Inia Boko strike.

We won 1-0.

Satala's words had worked wonders for our bunch of unknown Navuans — a moment these players will never forget.

Like they say, there is no substitute for experience.

That's why I have huge doubts about our chances of winning the Sevens World Cup this year if we stick with the same squad members that we have now.

We have some very exciting young players coming up the grade like Jasa (Veremaula) and Josua (Tuisova).

These players will be our go-to men at the 2016 Olympics.

For now we have to fall back on the likes of Seremaia Burotu, Watisoni Votu, Metuisela Talebula, Waisea Nayacalevu, Nikola Matawalu, Joeli Lutumailagi.

Throw in with them Joji Ragamate, Ilai Tinai, Setefano Cakau, Lepani Botia and maybe Samisoni Viriviri and let the world watch Fiji at its best.

We have to get back some of these experienced blokes for the Rugby World Cup.

If only the FRU could get a deal done with their clubs abroad, that would be nice.

There is still time left to work that out. Otherwise, kiss this world cup goodbye.

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