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Baber retains winning combination

Kamelii Rakoko
Friday, March 02, 2018

FEW things will be different when the Fiji Airways Fiji 7s team returns to their favourite hunting ground of Las Vegas despite their loss to South Africa there in last season's final.

They come off a great win in Hamilton in New Zealand and there will be extra security following last October's deadliest mass shooting in modern American history when a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers at the Route 91 on the Las Vegas Strip.

They have positive support from fans and they are confident after some hard preparations at the Uprising Resort.

Local sevens teams such as Police have been providing tough opposition in training and according to reports the national team were hammered in ruthless tackles and their physical fitness challenged in this gruelling matches.

They have survived the tests and Baber is taking a battle conditioned side and Russia, France and Kenya will be the first to try and contain them.

The buildup for our first Commonwealth Games gold is intensifying and how they fare in the Vegas and Vancouver the week after will give us an indication of how we stand in the Gold Coast campaign in April.

Combination is the key to winning in any team sports, sevens rugby included.

The national 7s coach Gareth Baber seems to have found the combination he had been looking for when he named an unchanged team from Hamilton to the Las Vegas Sevens.

The old saying of never change a winning combination is what the Welshman is banking on in the desert city in the state of Nevada and he has made a wise decision.

He may have been tempted to include other top players such as Levani Tani, Railoa and Isake 'Ice' Katonibau in this side, but developing understanding between players of the current team is priority as the more tests a combination endures will give experience and the players will trust each other more.

Trusting the player in support is vital in pressure cooker situations. Baber has indicated interests in flying over Semi Radradra from France, but the Taveuni man will only thrive if there is a well-drilled combination in place.

Katonibau, Tani and Railoa provide depth in the reserve squad and are expected to prove themselves in Hong Kong and Singapore. The latter being rugby league players are strong in tackles and off-load and stand their ground when tackled and they have speed off the mark.

After the Hamilton display rugby followers will want to know if the same combination can repeat the feat this weekend. Many things are involved, physically, mentally and spiritually and it is up to the players to find the winning formula time and again.

Applying the same degree of physicality and aggressive defence and maintaining discipline needs mental toughness and these attributes they develop personally and as a team.

The sizzling combination seen in Hamilton will be tested as opposition coaches will be wary of ball going to the flanks. Ten to 20 years from now Alasio Naduva will take a holiday sea voyage with Eroni Sau and Kalione Nasoko to Naviti and enjoy the sea delicacies of Yasawa and the three will reminisce of their rugby exploits and the Hamilton performance will be as vivid as ever to relate to their children.

It was one classic for the history books.

Injury-prone Waisea Nacuqu has been unfortunate and a knee injury has led to his inconsistent appearance, but when he is hot he is a matchwinner. If his game matures he has the potential to take over the playmaking role or even halfback in the absence of skipper Jerry Tuwai. He has proven in the past to be a reliable last man on defence with his speed and sure tackling.

Sau will be the marked man and having Sevuloni Mocenacagi back gives Baber easy choices for rover and wing without losing strength.

The rejuvenated form of Rio gold medalist of Jasa Veremalua means more possession in kick-offs and lineouts all through the game.

Veremalua came in the second half and won back the balls that enabled Fiji to score 19 unanswered points against South Africa in the Hamilton final.

Josua Vakurinabuli and Ra Fury Paula Dranisinukula have been improving in every match with Nasoko and Mesu Kunavula. Nadroga XVs flanker Vasikali Mudu has made a strong claim for the hooker's berth with his ball-hunting capabilities.

Tuwai, Ravouvou and Nasilasila carry no major injuries that will hamper their performance and they are expected to try and impress by lifting their game furthermore and lead by example.

Winning in Vegas is important to keep us in the running for the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series points title and close the gap against leaders South Africa and New Zealand.

Go Fiji Go

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