WITH the FMF Flying Fijians having qualified for the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup, a lot has been about the team's success in France.
All eyes were glued to the televisions sets early this morning to watch their quarter-final clash with the South African Springboks. Fiji Rugby Union chief executive officer Ratu Timoci Tavanavanua speaks to Monika Singh on the team's success
TIMES: How big of a boost is it for Fiji rugby with the FMF Flying Fijians qualifying for the quarter-finals?
Ratu Timoci: For us that was the main objective which was to make the top eight and now that we have achieved this, it puts us on a formal footing going into 2011 World Cup as we have also qualified for that.
First of all, by virtue of making the top eight the commercial value of the Fiji Rugby Union and its image has increased overnight.
As I said in terms of the game itself we have had some solid practice going into 2007.
Times: How do you see the future of Fiji rugby when the team returns home?
Ratu Timoci: At the end of this campaign we will have a meeting (de-briefing) with the managers and look at the strengths and weaknesses and we really need to do a SWOT analysis for the way forward.
In November we are having a strategic workshop where we will be looking at the way forward for the next World Cup.
In particular one of the areas that we need to work at is our set pieces and so we have already set up our scrum squad and just two weeks ago we had our weekend camp for our Under-19.
So you can see that we are keen in ensuring that come the next World Cup we would have addressed the set pieces because that has been the real issue for the last 20 or 30 years and it is really important to address that issue.
Times: Do you think this performance has been the result of the introduction of the Pacific Nations Cup and the setting up of the High Performance Unit in Fiji by the IRB?
Ratu Timoci: It really reflects on the establishment of the High Performance Unit which has enabled us to work within the framework which is required for a nation to compete at the highest level.
And so we were thankful to the International Rugby Board for these initiatives that helped in the setting up of the HPU not only in Fiji but in Samoa.
So for us this is very important and our achievement is a reflection of this and I think the IRB recognises this and so I think it should put us in a good position for the next level of funding.
Times: Sponsorship has been hard to come by for 15s rugby in Fiji, do you think that now the corporate sector would be more forthcoming to assist Fiji Rugby?
Ratu Timoci: At this point in time FRU is now beginning to establish its brand name and I think our achievement in the Rugby World Cup to date has reinforced this.
If you look at the current tournament that is happening in France, millions of households are watching the game on television or listening via the radio and this in itself is exposure for the country and it is difficult to put a value to it.
I think what we are doing here is really complementing what the Ministry of Tourism is doing in terms of promoting the country.
I think that it is one thing to secure sponsorship but the next thing is maintaining that relationship which is more difficult because once you secure sponsorship it is all about maintaining the relationship.
At this point in time the FRU is barely sustained by grants and what we need to try and do now is to introduce income generating activities to assist and complement the current revenue that we generate through grants and sponsorship.
Times: Does FRU plan to change the competition structure domestically to produce better results at international level?
Ratu Timoci: This has been discussed with the games committee and the management and this is something we are definitely going to look at.
We need to look at ways in which we can improve our domestic competitions but we still need to look at the details for this framework.
From our perspective we have the Colonial, the Farebrother and the Sanyo Cup and we have the B Division and the Island Zone and with the introduction of the Colonial Cup it has really lifted the standard of the domestic competition in Fiji.
Now what we need to do is to take this to all our competitions and we are doing this through our Development Unit, which was also set up this year.
And what we are doing here is developing our officials that are referees, our players and our coaches.
Times: Ilivasi Tabua has the credit of taking Fiji to the knock-out stages of the World Cup, would you like to see him continue as the head coach of Fiji? Why?
Ratu Timoci: I guess he was thrown into the deep end of the pool and asked to swim after Wayne Pivac's departure.
But I think Pivac's departure has been a blessing in disguise for us because it has allowed us to do things which had been difficult to address when he was here.
For instance the selection criteria as far as the players were concerned and some of the officials in the team.
Going back to Ilivasi he has shown that he is capable of doing the job and the best way to go forward is to provide the right environment for him to be able to perform effectively and efficiently.
We need to surround him with the right people.
Times: Do you think with Fiji making the quarters and Tonga almost coming close to beating the Boks, IRB has all the reason to invest further in the Pacific Islands to bridge the gap between them and the Tier One nations?
Ratu Timoci: The IRB has invested about $30million in the Pacific and I think these initiatives have started to show.
Now that we have made the top eight I think we might be getting a bigger portion of the IRB budget.
I think the new budget for the three countries is scheduled to be announced after the World Cup. In the last budget Samoa received somewhere near $1.4million, Tonga got 830,000 pounds and we got 800,000 pounds for the three years.
Times: Tabua in an article overseas said that SANZAR should give Pacific Islands the chance to play in an expanded Super 14 competition, do you agree?
Ratu Timoci: I endorse what he is saying but it would be good once again if we played for the three nations individually.
I think this is not going to happen for individual countries as yet but with regards to our interest I think we will be just pushing for playing more international matches with Tier Nations ranked five to 10 and this will give us a better or a true indication of what we are truly capable of.
Times: Fiji has once again looked to its overseas-based players to guide the national team home. But with all due respect we have seen the number of home grown players increase in the national team. Do you think come 2011, there will be more Fiji-based players in the national side instead of overseas-based players?
Ratu Timoci: Of this squad there are 21 overseas-based and nine local players. In terms of developing them in the right environment this is something that we will have to live with because it is really about earning a living for the players and secondly it gives them the opportunity to play in high level competitions and it also develops their standard of play.
With Fiji-based players, unless we are able to provide them with the kind of salaries they get overseas and that sort of contracts then it will be a great thing.
But it is very difficult to compete with overseas teams because if we take for example somebody like Seru Rabeni or Norman Ligairi who get a six figure salary, it is hard for us to match that kind of salary. I think the trend is for us to develop the players here and they go overseas but as long as they are available for the team when it has to play.
So I think for the time being we will continue to develop the players here.
Times: With the 2011 RWC to be held in NZ, cost will definitely come down do you think Fiji would be able to play against more quality opposition in the lead-up?
Ratu Timoci: We certainly believe that our achievement at the World Cup is an indication that we can compete with overseas teams and I believe that nothing is impossible and we can be the top team in the world.
The more important thing is maintaining that ranking and that will be the challenge for us.
Times: What would be the target for the 2011 RWC now that Fiji has achieved their set target this year? A semi-final or a final spot?
Ratu Timoci: Achieving the top eight has been very humbling and we put in a lot of work and I think the result speaks for itself.
I think the way we played Wales and beat them has certainly put a smile on a lot of people in the country.
We played with a lot of passion and pride and self belief and we take that with us in the game with South Africa and I believe that nothing is impossible.
Because now the dream of making it to the semi-final and final is no longer a dream and it's really satisfying and it's a good position to be in and we can only hope for better days to come.
Times: Apart from the bonus payment, does FRU plan to celebrate the team's achievement (irrespective of whether we win against Springboks) upon their return?
Ratu Timoci: We have met our directors in terms of making plans for our celebrations and whatever happens the team deserves a celebration.
We haven't made the quarters in the last 20 years and we are the only Tier Two team in the top eight and I think we have done the country proud and the team needs to be acknowledged for their effort.