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Fijians know 7s game: Baber

Opinions / Analysis

THERE’S never been any doubt how much Fijians know their sevens rugby.

We know it.

But when Gareth Baber, the former Fijian men’s 7s coach validated it, the sporting world better believe it.

The Welshman admitted that Fijian men, women, and children have a good knowledge of the sport.

And anecdotes aside, he added, everyone has an opinion about the coach and the game.

Baber revealed that the country has ingrained fans from all walks of life, who are passionate and obsessed about the sport.

Baber, after having spent four-and-a-half years in the country said Fijians are involved in the sevens game and who wouldn’t give a second thought to put everyone on the spot.

He didn’t spare those on the streets, shoeshine boys, the villagers, and people he ran into during the community competitions, who he said will call out everything about the game, the players, and the coach.

“Everybody knows who you are, and people are talking to you. Every man, woman and child has an opinion on you and the game you’re playing”.

“Quite regularly you’d come across guys who were a bit down on their luck and they’d do shoeshining on the corner of the street.

“I’d just be walking past and give them a few dollars just to make sure that they could eat. But they had all the knowledge. They knew everything about what you were doing, where you were going wrong, what was going to make you better, the players that you should be picking.

“That’s typical of what you’d get at one of the community Sevens tournaments. There was always food around, so you’d inevitably go and get a bit of fish and you’d have the matriarch having their photograph but then telling you that their son or their nephew should be playing for the Fijian team”.

But it wasn’t all sunshine and sandy beaches, despite the idyllic backdrop.

Baber feared he was likely going to be let go as the 2017/18 season did not start well, with a fourth-place finish in Dubai and fifth in Cape Town.

It was not up to expectations, and he would soon have to fight for his job.

“Two days before Christmas in 2017, he was back in Wales visiting family having been away for the previous two years, when he was called onto a hastily-arranged conference call with the FRU board at 3am”.

“It was questioned several times and my ability was questioned, and that goes with coaching anywhere, even when you’ve won things.

“I wanted the team to be Fijian, but I also wanted to bring a bit more consistency in the way that they trained and the approach to performance.

“I honestly thought that I had lost my job. That was one of the darkest points in it all”, he said.

Besides working every day, seven days a week and with whatever rest periods, Baber immersed himself in the culture and understanding the connection between being Fijian and the sport of Sevens.

And for Baber, the rosiest spectacle was the taste of winning the Tokyo Olympic sevens gold.

Mission accomplished.

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