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Fiji Time: 6:53 PM on Saturday 19 April

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Hits and misses

Kameli Rakoko
Wednesday, January 01, 2014

2013 will be remembered as the year that we came close to clinching a third world sevens rugby title and the year we celebrated 100 years of Fijian rugby.

Perhaps the end of a chapter and the beginning of an era as far as our sevens rugby prowess is concerned, as every Tomasi, Dike and Are would like to think.

It is also a year that will be remembered for the records created in rugby at both ends of the yardstick, from one extreme to the other.

Our Flying Fijians broke the international record for being awarded the most yellow cards in a game and the sevens team recorded the highest score ever against the All Blacks Sevens team.

We can argue the fact that the Welsh referee was prejudiced against Fiji in Italy, as every Welsh rugby fan still understandably "hate" Fiji for that 2007 Rugby World Cup win in France, but the record stays.

After an ordinary roller-coaster year of rugby performance a single stroke of brilliance on the part of our boys in the sevens rugby field at Dubai sparked unprecedented feelings and visions of hope for the future of rugby in the country.

The event was of course the record 44-0 thrashing of world sevens champion New Zealand in Dubai.

Not only was the score sensational but the way a young Fijian team clinically annihilated the Kiwis has been the subject of great discussion and brought back memories of past Fijian victories by Fiji over New Zealand in the three-in-a-row victory of 1990, 1991 and 1992.

Before that the 26-0 victory in 1984 under the coaching of another Englishman and hotelier Ian Duncan and the early years of sevens rugby in 1977, 1978 Fiji won the Hong Kong Sevens tournament.

In Dubai Fiji capped off this superb performance with a convincing win against tournament favorites South Africa in the final to finally capture the elusive Dubai tournament.

Even rugby pundits from the international scene are already predicting Fiji's first gold medal victory in the able-bodied Olympics in Rio in 2016.

Englishman Ben Ryan may have managed to unveil and pinpoint the missing formula of Fijian rugby success.

Fitness and diet were two distinctive areas Ryan concentrated on and we can say that everything just fell into place.

But the week after Dubai, Fiji lost to Samoa, which came through its pool second best having lost to Argentina. So it takes more than just physical fitness to whip a Fijian team into a winning mode.

The fact can be supported by the achievement of our team in the 2005 sevens world cup win. They were not the fittest players but they had other elements of winning rugby.

In South Africa we could pinpoint another crucial aspect of Fijian rugby and that is confidence.

You have a confident Fijian side you can beat any team in the world.

You have a Fijian team that lacks confidence and they will struggle through all their matches.

Then you have a Fijian team with too much confidence or are overconfident, you have disaster.

So a key element is to know what ounce of confidence your Fijian team needs to hit the right wave length. It takes a bit more than rugby know-how and more psychological skills. So a crucial aspect here is understanding of human behavior whether by academic qualifications or through experience.

Apart from all other successful highly qualified local and overseas coaches Ratu Kitione Vesikula had some psychological knowledge and Rupeni Ravonu's religious involvement with an Apostolic church group gave him experience to be a spiritual mentor.

Here we are assuming that the team is physically fit by international standards.

Another key element is the confidence the players have in the coach or his coaching team so that they perform 100 per cent by following every detail of his game plan.

Former coach Alivereti Dere was a good coach but the feedbacks from the majority of rugby fans and which would have seeped into the ears of his players was that, despite his great achievements as a player he had never coached a local winning sevens team.

On the other hand confidence is developed through playing with each other regularly and that is why coaches stick to proven combinations as it has had high success rate like Tukiti's team.

While Dere decided to stick to his lineup of tested talents in his world cup campaign to Moscow and not swayed by the urging of the majority of fans by not picking Tuwai and Jerry Burotu, Ryan did otherwise.

He selected his team on their performance in the Coral Coast sevens and selected three players from the champion Yamacia team.

However, one can argue that Ryan's job was easier as the three Yamacia boys of Donasio Ratubuli, Mosese Mawalu and Semi Kunatani were already in his training squad while Dere did not have Tuwai and Burotu beforehand.

So what are we really saying here?

Is it now safe to say that we have hit the jackpot in the area of sevens rugby coaching?

It is too early to say and it is a definite no.

Ryan and his boys may have won the Dubai sevens and thrashed New Zealand, but let us not get too carried away.

The Las Vegas sevens in January and Wellington are looming in the next couple of weeks or so where Ryan's coaching skills will be severely tested.

The Olympics is still more than two years away and let us not count our chickens yet, just because of our win in Dubai.

As the old English saying goes, "A swallow does not make a summer".

Happy new year to all our readers.