'My biggest worry is that a lot of these guys have not played for a while' - Pivac
Waisale Serevi is back. Missing in action for the last two years in Hong Kong, the legendary Fijian playmaker arrived yesterday at the head of a team brimming with pace and power, but lacking quality game-time together with more than half the players drawn from all over the world and not having played competitive sevens for a long time.
And this is a big worry for the former world champions with the World Cup kicking off on Friday. But Serevi, a trim-looking 36-year-old and one of the oldest players on show, remains positive.
'We will try to win the World Cup,' said Serevi yesterday. He was more confident when he arrived for the 1997 World Cup Sevens. Serevi said then: 'We will win the World Cup'. He maintained that all along as Fiji went on to capture the Melrose Cup, defeating South Africa in a gripping final. Perhaps he is playing his cards close to his chest.
But Fiji's new sevens coach, Wayne Pivac, admits his star-studded side are desperately short of sevens match practice. With only three survivors from the last two IRB Sevens - former captain Marika Vunibaka, Nasoni Roko and Neumi Nanuku - the rest have not played sevens for some time.
'We have got a number of big game players who have played in Hong Kong before and also at previous World Cups, 15s and sevens. This is the best side available. But my biggest worry is that a lot of these guys have not played sevens for quite a while and not played together as a unit. This is the biggest hurdle facing us,' said Pivac.
'We have had one hit-out against Tunisia who were in Fiji preparing for the World Cup and a couple of games among ourselves and a training side. Nothing more. I hope to get some matches organised against other teams before the tournament starts,' he said.
Serevi, who plays club rugby for Staines in England, is one of six players drafted in, soon after New Zealander Pivac was handed the job three weeks ago when Pauliasi Tabulutu was unceremoniously dumped by the Fiji Rugby Union.
The union was apparently unhappy with the team's performances in the first four legs of the IRB Sevens this season - even though Fiji reached the finals in Dubai and George before losing to England and New Zealand respectively - and sacked Tabulutu.
Gordon Tietjens, coach of defending World Cup champions New Zealand, however, felt this move might backfire. 'I don't know if he resigned or he was pushed. But, whatever, that is a huge move to make so close to the World Cup and I don't think it will be good for Fiji,' he said.
Pivac says he will depend on Serevi. 'It has been a while since I coached sevens. But it is like riding a bicycle - it all comes back. Also I will be relying a lot on the experience of Serevi and others in the coaching team. Serevi knows all about playing in Hong Kong,' said Pivac, who also coaches Fiji's 15-a-side team.
The other overseas-based players include Vilimoni Delasau (Crusaders, NZ) and Sireli Bobo (Parma, Italy), UK-based brothers Vili Satala (Harlequins) and Apolosi Satala (British Army) and Japan-based Semisi Naevo and Iferemi Rawaqa.
'I got everyone I wanted apart from Rupeni Caucau who was not released by his French club Agen. But this is a stronger side than that which has played previously in the IRB Sevens this season. They have the resources to win,' said Pivac.
While all eyes will be on the stars, watch out for William Ryder, the baby of the side, who is sharing a room with Serevi. Ryder is also a playmaker and could displace his roommate from the team.
'Everyone will get a run in the pool matches and they will have to earn their place for the crunch games. Even Serevi will have to perform, even though he is the captain,' said Pivac.