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Return to winning ways

Kameli Rakoko
Wednesday, January 31, 2018

GARETH Baber's Fiji Sevens team will have to return to playing Fijian sevens style of standing wide and passing while avoiding contact if they want to improve in Hamilton this week.

Last weekend they played themselves out to exhaustion in the first day and had nothing in the reserves to carry them in the final day because of their style of play. The old sevens ploy of making the ball do the work by continually interpassing will save them the energy to continue in the tournament.

Skipper Jerry Tuwai will have to leave the playmaking to Amenoni Nasilasila and stick to distribution especially in the first phase of play, but can do his razzle-dazzle once in a while in second or third phase.

The Kiwis were using the passing and recycling tactic well and their pool play loss came from not using a sweeper leading to Nasilasila's tries. They got better organised in the 4th and 5th play-off to thrash Fiji.

On Day 3 Fiji had an early chance to hurt USA but they kept running back into contact losing possession and when the Americans began scoring they outjumped Fiji. If you are tired you cannot jump and when mental block happens your mind can't think fast enough to counter situations.

A World Rugby analysis of Fiji's winning strategy in the Rio Olympics for example, was to avoid contact, and distribute and retain the ball with the result that over the competition:

* They obtained 20 per cent more possession than Great Britain.

* They made more than 40 per cent more passes than Great Britain.

* They rucked and mauled 40 per cent fewer times than Great Britain.

* They retained possession in 93 per cent of their rucks and mauls whereas Great Britain retained possession in only 74 per cent of theirs.

* They were 50 per cent more successful than Great Britain in turning over their opponents' rucks and mauls.

* They kicked the ball half as often as Great Britain.

Anyway, Australian Sevens coach Andy Friend and the Aussies are reaping the fruit of years of hard work and state-of-the-art sports technology after scooping both men and women's titles in the Sydney Sevens.

If the South Africans thought they were the fittest, they weren't. Australia led by their new find Ben O'Donnell, who scored two tries in the final gave everyone a coaching clinic as rugby commentators said.

South African players usually showed superiority in physicaI confrontations but Aussie players had the upper hand in the final.

They have the Australian Institute of Sports, the South Africans have the special sevens rugby academy and millions of dollars to look after the welfare of their players.

You get a $5 haircut in a Fiji barber shop. But try walking to a Cape Town hairdresser and ask for a Cecil Afrika hairstyle or even in a Hamilton, New Zealand men's hairdressing shop and ask for a Jo Ravouvou Wella hairstyle and it will be a big chunk out of a Fijian player's allowance. Our boys will settle for army cut, police cut or piala cut.

We have a top level coach in Baber, top-class strength and conditioning coach and trainer Nacanieli Cawanibuka, but we don't match up with equipment and finance to look after our players like the countries we beat and lose to New Zealand and USA.

If it is any consolation in his first season Ben Ryan's team lost to Samoa and New Zealand in pool play in Las Vegas and ended up in the bowls. We will always have to dig down into our reserves to fight above our weight with our natural ability and knack for sevens rugby.

So if you are a frustrated Fijian fan, think again and put yourself in the shoes of our national sevens players.

On the other hand it is like 2016 all over again with the Olympic Games looming and we are not able to win in Sydney and Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are in devastating form.

Then Fijian coach Ben Ryan was desperately seeking for answers as the Africans and the Kiwis thumped us.

We were building up for the Olympics and it is the same this year as we build up for the Melrose Cup in San Francisco in August and the April Commonwealth Games.

There was no Leone Nakarawa then, no Josua Tuisova, no Semi Kunatani. But come Rio Olympics time they were here and we were ready to take on the world.

In Sydney we thought we had hit top form after winning over Russia, Samoa and New Zealand in pool play we were back to square one in the quarter-finals after USA whipped us.

The day-after has always been a problem for Fijian teams in the past and the overwhelming crowd support in Sydney will always be a distraction as players tend to play for the crowd.

Winning all pool games and saving energy for the finals is the way to go in Hamilton. Same players, same coach, but just a different tactic or switching to playing expansive rugby will see Fiji back there.

We won the first Wellington Sevens in 2000, we can do it again in Hamilton.

Go Fiji Go

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