Fijians banking on rookies to revive past glories

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 March, 2009, 12:00am

Fiji have dumped all their overseas-based stars and chosen a hungry band of rookies as they bid to win their first Cathay Pacific/Credit Suisse Hong Kong Sevens title since 1999.

'We have brought a side who all play at home and have been together this season. They are sevens match-fit,' said coach Iliesa Tanivula. 'The five overseas-based players we had at the World Cup are gone. It will make a huge difference to this side.'

The Fiji Rugby Union found out the hard way that the big-name players were unconditioned to the demands of sevens after the Pacific Islanders failed to defend their World Cup crown in Dubai this month. The 'stars' looked bloated and out of shape. Fliers Vilimoni Delasau, Sireli Bobo and Jone Daunivucu were slow and ponderous. Towering forwards Apolosi Satala and Semisi Naevo were well behind the pace and Kenya made them pay by knocking them out in the Cup quarter-finals.

Tanivula admitted the team had been underdone in Dubai and the plan to mix experience with youth had gone woefully wrong. 'We just didn't spend enough time together before the World Cup. Four of those players came at the 11th hour, and we all met them in Dubai. That was the downfall,' Tanivula said. 'They didn't have the match fitness, and as a coach I have learnt a lot from that. But now we are moving forward.'

And the way ahead has been to fall back on home-based players who have been part of the IRB Sevens programme, but were overlooked for the World Cup to make way for the 'stars'.

Fiji haven't won a tournament in the IRB Series for almost two years and the onus this weekend will be on debutants such as James Brown and a bunch of rookies.

Brown, part of the Canterbury Crusaders development squad, is one of 10 who will appear for the first time at Hong Kong Stadium. Only halfback Emosi Vucago and wing Nasoni Roko have featured in the past.

'It's the oldest sevens tournament in the world and we have won more Hong Kong titles than any other team,' Tanivula said.

Fiji, who won the World Cup in Hong Kong in 2005, are in pool E with Samoa, Canada and Taiwan.