Coach firm

Fiji Airways Men’s 7s player Paula Dranisinikula pose for a photo with family and friends at the Nadi International Airport yesterday. Picture: REINAL CHAND

FIJI Airways Fiji 7s coach Gareth Baber has defended his team selection for the Rugby World Cup Sevens amidst rivers of critics who have launched scathing attacks following the team’s fourth place finish in the United States on Monday.

Dubbed as the best team on paper, Fiji’s bid for a third Melrose Cup was dashed by New Zealand in the semi-final.

Baber, whose contract with the Fiji Rugby Union runs until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, said he would not let the negative vibes affect him and the players.

“Haters will be haters and if that’s the way they want to operate, then let them carry on,” Baber said.

“I will not let that affect me and not let it affect the boys. “Rugby is not played on paper and it is played on the rugby field.

“You see that on paper we had the best team, but I don’t know what qualifies on paper as the best team. In fairness competitions are competitions and teams grow in those competitions.

“At times we haven’t had the best team on paper and played in the World Rugby Sevens Series and won. We just did not manage to do it this time.

“In London, Semi Radradra and Josua Tuisova proved themselves. I always wanted to use Leone Nakarawa in a way that I wanted to use in the second half to create physicality in the game and those off-load opportunities when the opposition was tired.

“Semi Kunatani had played right through in the Hong Kong 7s and Commonwealth Games and was with us in the training camp. “You can always argue that players need more fitness, but all players did well.”

Baber reiterated that selecting the best 12 players out of the 16-member training squad was a tough task.

“We had them in training for a long period of time,” he said.

“Eroni Sau did not train as well as the other boys so somebody had to be left out. “If I had left another one you would be asking why that person was left out. I could have done that way ahead, but I would not have had the opportunity to see the boys from Europe. That’s the whole point of taking 16 players to the US.”

Fiji lost to New Zealand 22-17 in the semi-final and went down 24-19 to South Africa in the bronze medal playoff.

Baber said the result was a huge disappointment. “We knew that we had a chance after we played Argentina on Saturday night,” he said.

“It is exactly how we wanted to play, but then into the New Zealand game, it did not happen. I thought New Zealand played well. “We knew that it was there for the taking and there was a period there in the game that we got the ball. I think we would have scored and it would have been different, unfortunately it wasn’t to be our turn this time. “It has been a long year. We played in four competitions starting with the Oceania Championship, the Commonwealth Games, the HSBC 7s Series and the World Sevens Cup. “We have had a good season in some respects in the HSBC 7s Series. We hit some good form in that but we just could not recreate that formula in the last couple of tournaments. “The players need a break and time away from rugby. Then we will start focusing on the HSBC 7s series which starts in November.”

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