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The sevens debate

Rashneel Kumar
Friday, April 04, 2014

ON Monday as I was getting ready to fly back home from Hong Kong, I received an email from a colleague saying people back home were blaming Waisale Serevi for the loss in Hong Kong.

He said there was talk that the players were confused by conflicting instructions from coach Ben Ryan and Serevi resulting in the 7-17 loss to England in the semi-final.

I was not satisfied.

I replied to him, if the team had won, those who were spreading the rumours would have been the first to praise Serevi.

In fact, the maestro would have received more praise than anyone else in the team.

That's the harsh reality of us - the Vodafone Fiji 7s fans.

But does that help the team or development of the sport?

No.

What we are doing only discourages those hardworking people who are working tirelessly to ensure Fiji 7s is back on top.

Serevi was invited by IRB Sevens World Series sponsors HSBC to run 7s rugby clinics for Hong Kong kids with his Serevi Rugby team.

On Tuesday, March 25 he turned up at the team training at La Salle College ground after seeking permission from Ryan and manager Ropate Kauvesi.

Serevi trained with the team, offered his advice to the players and also conducted clinic for the school kids.

In the interview afterwards, he expressed his joy to be with the team and his love for Fiji.

Ryan reciprocated and revealed his plan to include the IRB Hall of Fame inductee in the 2016 Olympic Games campaign.

Serevi wasn't seen with the team after that Tuesday because he was busy doing the job that was assigned to him — spreading the gospel of the sport that made him an international icon. But he was in the tournament from the start with the team.

Ryan had earlier said he was eyeing Serevi to help him motivate the players as he was well respected by the players.

"I love to have him with the boys," Ryan earlier told Times Sport.

"He is motivational, he's been there and done that and he understands where the boys have come from.

"As much as I like to think I understand them, I'm not Fijian. I haven't come from one of the small villages. We have our different stories.

"I think the way he connects with the boys off the field is great. He is in my plans going forward for the strength of the team. I'm sure that we will see a lot more of him."

When I reached home on Tuesday, I was amused to read the debate in our Letters to the Editor column plus few emails asking if Serevi really was the reason for Fiji's loss.

I sent a quick email to Ryan informing him of the situation at home.

His answer was straightforward.

All he wanted was to see if Serevi fits in his plan for the Rio Games qualification and beyond.

On Wednesday, Ryan told the local media Serevi was merely following his orders. He put all speculation to rest.

So what if Ryan took that gamble? Isn't he doing this for the betterment of the team?

If Ryan feels Serevi can play an important role in the Rio Games campaign then he is right.

In his capacity as the national coach, he has a better perspective than the armchair critics and can think better than us.

Fiji simply lost because the players were tired.

They struggled in the 17-5 win over USA in the quarters, were ineffective against the English and struggled again in the 21-12 win over Australia in the third place play-off.

It's not easy to win back-to-back tournaments, only South Africa has achieved that this year but in separate legs.

But that only at the expense of a gigantic $7.5million budget per year.

Even with so less, if Fiji can still win tournaments, imagine what we can do with just couple of millions per year.

Under Ryan this season, Fiji has so far proved to be the best performing team.

The latest stats from the IRB shows Fiji, which is placed third in the IRB 7s series points table, has scored the most number of tries — 188 — and most points — 1178.

That is an average of 4.5 tries and 28 points per match.

Series leader New Zealand is second with 178 tries, 1130 points, 4.2 average tries and 26.9 average points.

Fiji was also the best performing team in the Hong Kong 7s, scoring 28 tries and 186 points in the tournament while eventual winner New Zealand managed 23 tries and 149 points.

The national side also won the Dubai and Tokyo 7s for the first time and handed New Zealand their worst defeat, 44-0, in the Dubai 7s semi-final.

While there are still areas in which we can improve, there is no doubt the team has improved tremendously.

The next season is very important as it is the qualification for the Rio Games, the top four in the 2014/15 series will earn their place in 2016 Olympics.

The Hong Kong 7s is just a battle in the war we are in, that war that has Olympic gold as the ultimate prize.


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