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Fiji's secret weapon

Pravin Narain
Sunday, September 24, 2017

This is the second part of our series on former

Vodafone 7s manager Ropate Kauvesi which we started last Sunday.

UNITY helps move mountain.

For our Fiji 7s team, unity was one secret weapon for the team to conquer the world at the 2016 Olympic Games rugby 7s in Rio, Brazil.

The players defied all odds stacked against them. Apart from being talented, they also had a brotherly comradery among each other which helped them win the first Olympic Games gold medal for the Pacific region.

Our readers had read about the beginning of the journey and how former Fiji 7s Olympic Games manager Ropate Kauvesi carried out the role over time to ensure players had all the comfort and training gear which was required on the field.

This week we will look at how Ropate's relationship grew with coach Ben Ryan and his assistant Chris Cracknell and getting to know the trio's nickname.

Kauvesi said being a manager was one of the toughest jobs for him where he had to play different roles on and off the field and had to work around-the-clock where he was the first to wake up in camp and the last to switch off the lights and go to bed.

He used to carry a toolbox with him where he had different rugby gear and equipment to give to the players to adjust to the certain ground conditions; bootlaces, studs and look after the players during the long travels to see the tall players have good seats where they could stretch their legs and travel comfortably.

Kauvesi is no longer the manager with the Fiji 7s team, but surely he would have thousands of untold stories to share with the future generations as how a group of humble Fijians with the guidance of ginger-haired coach Ben Ryan took the world by storm with the lack of resources and funding compared with other nations such as South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia.

He said Ryan was very understanding when it came to the team and understood the problems of players and it produced a strong bond which was needed to bring the gold medal to Fiji.

"Our relationship grew from day one when he took the team to the Gold Coast 7s in 2013 and he wanted to know where Pio Tuwai was and I went to look for Tuwai while the team flew out," he said.

"Ben and I worked well in the past three and half years and it went from strength to strength and he showed me a lot of things which I learned from him.

"For us, we showed him the Fijian way of how we do things and soon he became accustomed to and he understood it. It has been a wonderful journey as we had laughs and some tears along the journey.

"But at the end of the day we are thankful that we came to know each other and now we are a family."

Fiji was the most searched country that topped the global search trends on Google after the Olympic Games rugby 7s final.

"We are now brothers for life where we can pick up the phone and call each other and have a good chat.

"He had given me the nickname of 'teddy bear' because there were a few things which happened over time after which him and Chris gave me that name," he said.

"I also got the nicknames for them with Ben nicknamed 'lollypop' while Chris was 'sweet petunia'.

"We had a good set of management with Naca Cawanibuka and Jeremy Manning and this made sure we worked as a team and moved forward together."

Kauvesi said after every tournament, players used to celebrate for five minutes and they would reset their focus to the next task.

"Players only celebrated for five minutes and after that they would switch off and focus on their recovery and switch on again.

"The process had always been the same and we never changed the process and kept it the same way and it was a good thing because the players were tuned on.

"It was a very big challenge for us to get the overseas-based players to come and play for us in tournaments.

"We also had the right training, eating pattern and right sleeping time for players.

"Players were struggling at first, but at the end of the day they understood what we wanted from them and where we were going to and things started to fall in place," he said.

"When we went to the Olympics, the things which we had done in the past carried us through.

"During all the tournaments we made sure that we completed the first day on top of the table and on the second day we used to treat each game as a final and players understood what was required from them and I am thankful to majority of the senior players for their guidance.

"My job as a manager was to keep the team focused whether the team wins or loses and to ensure players were happy going into the next tournament.

"There are good memories when the boys were in camp playing the guitar and relaxing."

He said selection of the team was one of the hardest process.

"It was one of the toughest moments for the management team to tell players if they made it to the team and likewise, for Ben it was tough for him," he said.

"Players came through with us in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series and we had to decide to take the best of players, but looking at the other players who were dropped we could have formed another team since all of them were great players.

"Despite being a small country we can take on the big nations in rugby."

Kauvesi has achieved his mission for the country and we can only say vinaka vakalevu for being a loyal servant of Fiji 7s rugby.

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