BEN Ryan's journey with the Digicel Fiji 7s starts this weekend at the Gold Coast 7s tournament in Australia. The former England 7s mentor has been appointed the national team coach for three years. Times Sports interviews Ryan on his plans to steer Fiji back to winning ways.
FT: You started off your career playing for Richmond minis. Is this where you became hooked on rugby?
Ryan: Yes. First training session and that was it! Loved football and athletics as a kid too and played any sport I could for as long as I could!
FT: When did you decide to become a coach and why 7s rugby?
Ryan: Injury really accelerated my coaching career. I am also a qualified teacher and my rugby career spanned through the amateur and professional era so we all had to have a job to go with our rugby. Professionalism changed that.
FT: You lost your dad just before you were named England coach. Was he a big influence on your rugby career?
Ryan: The biggest. My dad was an international athlete and played good level of club rugby. He always supported me and he always reminded me that there is no substitute for hard work and being always grateful for what you have. I hope he is proud of me now — I would love for him to be around now — he would have loved Fiji and certainly given me plenty of advice.
FT: You have a "knack" for Fijian players while you were coach for England. What made you choose Isoa Damudamu and what role did he play in the side?
Ryan: I brought Damu into the club side I was coaching so have known him for a long time. Damu had the ability to see everything happening on the field a little quicker than everyone else and he always gave his heart and soul to every game he played. I loved his humility and he doesn't say much but when he does — everyone listens.
FT: Were there any other Fijian players you were keeping a tab on in England and how do you see their rugby future?
Ryan: Yes, Joe Savou's son (Filimoni) and George Wacokecoke are two Fijian guys in the English system and also players like (Semesa) Rokodugi that plays for Bath and British Army. Damu has some younger brothers too!
FT: What made you apply for the Fiji job?
Ryan: Broaden my horizons, chance to coach Fijian players, live in an amazing place with beautiful people. I also think I can help to make some lasting changes on and off the field to really push Fiji 7s to fulfil its amazing potential.
FT: What was your first impression of Fiji and the people when you arrived at Nadi International Airport?
Ryan: We (Ryan and wife Natalie) were both overwhelmed! The level of support and interest has been fantastic and my wife and me both felt incredibly humbled by everything.
FT: How would you describe your "complete player" and have you seen any so far during the FIJI Water Centennial International 7s tournament?
Ryan: I certainly saw a few players I will be inviting them into training camp pre Dubai. I must also say the team we are taking to the Gold Coast have been very professional and are a talented bunch. Really looking forward to my first coaching sessions with them this week.
FT: During your time with England, several players you coached with the 7s team ended up playing 15s for the England team. Do you have a similar plan in place to develop some of the 7s players into the Flying Fijians?
Ryan: We definitely will have a joined up approach so Fiji rugby can be as strong as possible and decisions over players are in their interest and the interest of the team. It's an exciting time.
FT: The people of Fiji are very proud of their 7s history and do not take losing very well. Do you have a message for them?
Ryan: I don't think any of us like losing! The message is simple. We will all give every ounce of energy towards playing as well as we can on the field.
Please be patient as I have only just arrived in the country and I need to look carefully at everything before making any decisions. I also haven't coached the team yet so it won't be until Dubai that you will see real changes to some of the technical and tactical stuff with the team. It's a great journey ahead and you can be certain I will give it all I have got to help. I'm very excited about it and I start a new chapter this week.
* PS — Ryan and his family are ardent Manchester United fans.