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Believe in locals : Gareth

Opinions / Analysis

AROUND the same time in 2016, Fiji men’s 7s coach Ben Ryan had a full training squad including overseas based players preparing for the Rio Olympic Games.

This time around, and with less than 2 months away from the Olympic Games in Japan, coach Gareth Baber has a squad of all local players, who have a strong desire to replicate the 2016 gold medal win.

And while he has not yet dropped a hint on the inclusion of overseas based players, he seems to be happy with what he has in his training squad.

Baber, though last month made a mention of Semi Radradra, Josua Tuisova and Eroni Sau, who he said had shown their intention of playing in the Olympics.

“These players were contracted out to their clubs and depending on their availability, they would be included in the training squad”.

The trio, Radradra (Bristol Bears), Tuisova (Lyon), and Sau (Edinburgh) are playing in Europe.

Described as behemoths, there is no secret these players would have been huge assets to the team, bringing in the mix Aminiasi Tuimaba (Pau) and Filimoni Botitu (Castres), Baber would have had the best team.

But given that silence is as good of an answer as words, then let us just play by ear that locals are our gold medal hopefuls for the Olympics Games in Japan.

It may not convince the sports deeply ingrained fans, who would have loved to see the overseas based players in the Olympics, it should also remind us of our failures both in the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia and the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco, USA.

While other nations have included their best players in their training squads, it is Fiji that they look at as their biggest threat.

It is the gold medal contenders, like New Zealand, South Africa, Great Britain, and Australia who have all eyes locked on our preparations.

And have ramped up their training with exhibition games.

New Zealand and Australia played in the Trans-Tasman Sevens tournament held across three days in Auckland, last week with New Zealand winning the series in a clean sweep, 6-0, between Friday and Sunday.

New Zealand head coach Clark Laidlaw tested Caleb Clarke and Etene Nanai Seturo, who he rated highly to make the final cut for the Olympic team.

He sounded upbeat, added “Good progress”.

Australian head coach Tim Walsh did not get the desired results but said he identified the areas that needed work before Tokyo Japan bound.

“We’re in a unique position where, in our corner of the globe, three out of the top four countries in Fiji, NZ and Australia reside,” he said.

“We have quality athletes, so we can hopefully work together to prepare ourselves for three medals and fight over the gold, silver and bronze hopefully”.

The Blitzboks will be playing against Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe on consecutive weekends next month, which coach Neil Powell confirmed will be used as trials for the Olympic hopefuls.

Branco du Preez and Chris Dry, both missed out on Olympic selection in 2016, are determined to change the fortunes this time around.

Team Great Britain is made up of Wales and Scotland. Welsh players Luke Morgan (Ospreys), Luke Treharne and Morgan Williams and six players from Scotland, including captain Robbie Fergusson have joined five players that previously took home silver from the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Head coach Tony Roques has a good mix of experience from the last Olympic Games, at the same time, admits having a very fresh squad which is exciting.

Our players have also fared up strongly during the Fiji Rugby Super 7s Series before going into their bubble amid the Covid -19 lockdown.

The squad has been training in separate bubbles, on a program given to them by Baber.

For it is our desire that won us the 2016 Rio Olympic gold and it will spring the same energy to win it again in Tokyo, Japan.

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