Fiji on track for HK despite home loss, insists coach
The Fiji national sevens team might be the cat's whiskers on the HSBC Sevens World Series but back at home they are just another side with feet of clay after a Fiji Army selection defeated them in the final of the Marist Sevens - the country's biggest sevens tournament - this weekend.
Playing under the banner of the Fiji Barbarians, the squad bound for Hong Kong came up short against the Army, losing 24-12 in what was described as an epic final by the local media.
To make matters worse for national sevens coach Alifereti Dere, one of his key playmakers Miteli Nacagilevu was stretchered off and is doubtful for the trip to the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens on March 23-25.
Dere, a big forward who has played and captained Fiji to success at the Hong Kong Sevens, was not unduly worried at his side's unexpected failure to win the Marist Sevens, and maintained preparations were right on schedule as Fiji look at winning a record 11th Cup title (they have also won two Rugby World Cup titles in 1997 and 2005 in Hong Kong).
'We just wanted to test the combination of the team and see how the new boys jelled with the other boys in the squad,' Dere told the Fiji Times.
'We are satisfied with our performance and we will go back to the drawing board to fine tune some of the moves before we embark for Hong Kong. Winning was not our main priority at this tournament,' Dere said.
But the loss will raise questions whether the 16-man training squad Dere has named for Hong Kong is the right choice considering that an Army select team was able to gain the upper hand in the final of a prestigious tournament.
Dere insisted that he had the right personnel to win the sixth leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series but has now pushed back naming his final 12 for Hong Kong until later this week so as to assess the fitness of his star player Nacagilevu.
'Injuries are part of the game and we have to accept it but we will wait and see what the doctor says about Mitieli's health status,' Dere said.
Fiji are in pool C in the top-tier competition alongside Australia, France and Scotland.
They began the season with a bang, defeating New Zealand to win the Gold Coast Sevens but have failed to match that success since, and have made only one more final, in Wellington.
Fiji are the most successful team to have played in Hong Kong, winning this many tournaments, including two World Cups