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Ryan needs a playmaker

Kameli Rakoko
Tuesday, February 11, 2014

NATIONAL SEVENS coach Ben Ryan will have to groom or find an alternative playmaker to take over in the absence of injured skipper Osea Kolinisau and Pio Tuwai.

Fiji's semi-final loss to South Africa at the Wellington Sevens highlighted this weakness as our boys ran themselves out of contention.

South Africa was suffering from mental fatigue and were just going through the motions and were there for the taking.

But our boys over-eagerness caused them to create silly mistakes and the Afrikaners gained confidence and held on to the 10-0 victory.

You do not have to be a doctor or psychiatrist to know that South Africa did not have the sharpness and will to win as they had in Las Vegas.

It happens all the time and that is why no team in the HSBC Sevens Series has won back to back tournaments in the same leg.

Gordon Tietjens and all the high achievements of his New Zealand All Blacks sevens team have never won back to back tournaments in the same leg.

Only in recent years have they won back to back but in different legs, never on the same leg.

Teams winning the tournament have naturally always slipped in performance in the next one and psychologists may have a proper explanation for it but we can say that it is perhaps a form of mental fatigue.

That South Africa even reached the final it did not reflect so much on their ability but the inability of the opposition teams in the quarters, semi-finals and the final.

The Kiwis were just a shadow of the team they used to be without the skills and playmaking abilities of Tomasi Cama and superb form of Lote Raikabula and DJ Forbes. They are building up for the Commonwealth Games where we should once again see them at their peak and absolute best.

However, the Kiwis loss to Fiji in pool play has further haunted them as they are still trying to get over the 44-0 thrashing in Dubai.

It will take years and more Kiwis win over Fiji to finally or partly take that unsettling thought away that the current Fiji team under Ben Ryan will always have the ability to thrash them.

The team's third place finish at Wellington in the weekend was an upset result following their semi-final loss to South Africa but definitely an improvement from Las Vegas.

Fiji was relegated to the Bowls competition in Vegas and under Timoci Wainiqolo last year's team also went down to the Bowl competition in Wellington.

So result-wise we have improved and taking into consideration the injuries of key players Osea Kolinisau and Pio Tuwai the mistake-ridden team of young players still managed to beat England to win the third place.

Imagine this team playing without the glaring mistakes and overeagerness that spoiled their chances against South Africa in the semi-finals.

But the expectation of the local sevens public was for Fiji to win in Wellington and even without Kolinisau and Tuwai they showed they had the potential to sweep away South Africa and eventual winners New Zealand.

However, the lack of a playmaker to anchor their attacks caused their downfall.

The playmaker does not have to always be the first-five or halfback just someone to take control of the situation, have patience, vision and skills to dictate the pace of the game.

A battle commander among the foot soldiers.

Against South Africa all seven players were focused on attacking, going hell for leather continually turning over possession to the opposition and were not able to find their rhythm of attack.

If you observe Cama's play for New Zealand when the situation is tight, you can see that he always falls back and then calls for the ball.

His teammates always send the ball back to him where he builds up another new move and by falling back he also makes himself time to have a vision of the opposition defence before launching a new attack.

Two players in the current team can be groomed to become good playmakers and they are Benito Masilevu and Henry Seniloli.

Since the next leg of the series just around the corner the best shot by Ben Ryan is to call up former playmaker Nadroga's Jiuta Lutumailagi.

Up until his unfortunate car accident he was Fiji's sevens playmaker and he has returned to top rugby for Nadroga last year.

Despite his small size Lutumailagi is a more than average tackler and former coach Iliesa Tanivula had a lot of faith in him.

He has never missed a tackle and he is still remembered for a try-saving diving tackle he did against South Africa some years ago to help Fiji win in Wellington.

But once Masilevu fully grasps the principles behind the position of the playmaker and his important role in a team he can create wonders and become the next Waisale Serevi.

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